Reading, writing, and math are three things that parents and teachers have always looked at as indicators of success in schools.
But I have three other things that as far as I am concerned, may be even more important than if you have memorized your math facts or can write a perfect essay.
Confidence. Self esteem. A strong sense of self.
You might say that these three things are redundant. You might wonder why problem solving and creativity, some of my favorite topics are not what I consider to be the keys to school success. The truth is that if you are not confident you are less likely to take risks when it comes to problem solving or thinking outside the proverbial box to show creativity. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself or are easily swayed when someone else offers a suggestion that others think is better than yours, you are not likely to demonstrate the depth of creative ideas that are swirling around your head.
After twelve years, I know the importance of confidence, self esteem and a strong sense of self even though I am not in the classroom myself today to welcome new students to a new year of learning, inquiry, and reflection. But also? As a mom to a daughter whose confidence and self esteem sometimes play second fiddle to the voices of insecurity….I have never been so sure about these three, seemingly simple characteristics as the key to academic success in school and more importantly, in life.
The trick is….how do we foster confidence in our children? Especially if you are like me, not exactly the poster child of self confidence every single day?
The only answer that I can even begin to come up with is by being a role model with our own behavior AND encouraging our children in very concrete ways. As people we take in feedback across settings, through verbal and non verbal cues. We read body language, we hear the words that are used to describe our actions, efforts, and even behavior.
Strategies to foster confidence in children
It is not enough to say “That is great” when you are looking through a child’s school work. Providing concrete feedback like “I noticed you used descriptive sentences” or “I noticed that you capitalized at the beginning of each sentence” or even “I noticed that you used a lot of color in your picture” provide specific reinforcement. While we always want someone to “like” our work, the reality is that in life, not everyone is going to like everything we do. So starting children off with a foundation of confidence NOT built on what others like or dislike will help foster their inner sense of confidence and pride in their work.
As independent as our children want to be, they still need us. Reminders that we are there and that we care, with a special lunchbox note or card hidden in their backpack can go a long way to helping our children remember that we are rooting for them. Our first day of school started off with a card left on my daughter’s bedside table so that she would see it when she woke up and of course a lunch box note to find when she sits down in the crowded and noisy cafeteria later today.
Reflecting on the good things is an important tool for life. Instead of coming home off the bus ready to list the who did what and what went wrong during the day, my daughter knows that when she gets off the bus, I am going to ask her to tell me two good things about her day. We can get to the frustrating things later, but helping her notice the sometimes small successes can help later when we do talk about anything that might have been frustrating.
Setting goals helps guide efforts and show progress. Children (and adults) often feel like they have to do everything well all at once. Asking a child to set a goal can help them focus their efforts and allow them to see themselves grow as they work to achieve that goal. Setting a goal also encourages conversations about what might make that goal difficult, so that a child can think through the steps they will need to take to show progress. Also? While we as parents have goals for our children, it is important to find out what they want to improve or work towards. My daughter’s two goals are to learn more vocabulary words so that she can understand what she reads better, and to become a more detailed writer (I swear that I did not influence her in creating that goal!). Now, I can weave specific feedback into conversations to help encourage her attempts to achieve her goals and foster her interests in concrete ways instead of just telling her, for example, that she needs to “write more.”
Fostering confidence in our children will help them not just in school as they speak in front of their classmates or demonstrate their knowledge to their teachers. Confidence, self esteem, and a strong sense of self will prepare them for real life…the real life that is for better or worse, just a few blinks away. I cannot even imagine how my own life would be different if I had developed a stronger sense of self confidence or self esteem when I was younger. But more than anything else, I know that to help my daughter develop these three traits, I need to model them myself and show her the importance so that hears it, sees it, and believes in the importance.
What about you? What do you see as the keys to fostering confidence in our children or in ourselves?