Last week I started writing about the basic emotional needs of children. If you didn’t get to read that post, you can find it here. As I mentioned last week, Dr. Bruce Narramore wrote a very helpful book, “Help! I”m A Parent!” which outlines very practical parenting insights and approaches. In this book, Dr. Narramore discusses the four basic emotional needs of children. The second need he discusses is the need to feel confident. Remember as we discuss this that children who don’t get their basic needs met feel emotional hurts and they often compensate by seeking a substitute for the basic need. Last week we discussed that children who don’t get the need of feeling truly loved met end up seeking attention as a substitute.
First of all, let’s think about what confidence is and how it is developed in a child. According to the site Zero to Three, confidence is a belief in ones own ability to master our body, behavior, and the challenges we encounter in the larger world. Children who are confident are eager to learn new skills and face new challenges. They also expect adults to be helpful and supportive of their efforts. When I think of the word confidence, I think of the Latin root which has in it the word “fide” or trust. A child’s basic need for developing trust begins at birth and continues to be their strongest need through age two. We develop this trust — the concept that the world is a safe place and people can be counted upon — by answering the cries of our children and comforting them and meeting their basic needs. Over time, the child learns that the world (people he needs) are dependable. This development of trust is essential for the next stage of development when the child will start to exert some independence and will need to develop trust in their own God-given abilities. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with a two year old knows that one of their favorite expressions is “I do myself” or some version of that expression.
Young children start to long to exert their own abilities and thrive on being told that they are doing well. In order to develop confidence in your children, give them tasks that are just a little beyond their ability and have them try to achieve these tasks — setting the silverware out at supper, putting things in the trash, putting away toys and helping with basic chores around the home are ways young children can start to grow in capacity and as they do, you can affirm them, “You did such a good job!”
In addition to these family contributions, children can also exert their own abilities. My oldest son started receiving an allowance at age four. We gave him four quarters every week. We designed a little “piggy bank” which had a house, a church and a bank (based on principles we learned from Money Matters ministry). Our son would put one quarter in the church to learn about tithing. He put one in the bank to learn about savings. He put the remaining two quarters into his “house” for spending. Every two weeks he could go to the dollar store to get something with his spending money. Once a month he went to the bank to put his money in the bank. Once a month he gave to the church from his collection at home. We soon found out that our son has the spiritual gift of giving. Many times he would want to give more to the church than to his spending. We didn’t hinder that. We said, “God gifted you to be a generous giver.” We validated his strength. Later in life (when he was eight) he gave up participating in baseball one season so he could donate the amount we would have spent on registration to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. As we affirmed the strength God put in our son, God gave Him more ability to give. God promises that he who is faithful in little will be given much. We can help our children grow into increasing capacity for serving God as we draw out the gifting God put in each of them.
|Little League Baseball (courtesy of Wiki Commons)|
|Earthquake Damage in Haiti (courtesy of Wiki Commons)|
When children are confident (in those they can trust and in themselves) they learn to be trusting people. They are more willing to take risks and they become strong problem solvers. Also, children who are confident (have the capacity for trust deep in their hearts) more readily develop a strong faith in God. If a child can not trust those around himself, it is hard for him to transfer trust to our unseen God.
When children don’t have confidence, they feel insecure and they begin to seek power and control. Who hasn’t been in a power-struggle with a child? I’ve unfortunately been in my fair share. I do well when I remember that my child is not seeking power, but what they need is some area of influence and input and a sense that they “can do” and that I believe in their abilities. They need confidence and a sense that they can trust themselves and others around them. If you see your child pulling for power, think to yourself that it may be time to expand their boundaries, include them in some decision making and give them more room to exercise new skills. When there is turmoil or change in the family, children can feel temporarily insecure as a predictable routine has been disrupted. These times can also lead to an increase in power-seeking and an attempt to control others. During times like this, it is good to allow for more testing than would normally be expected. It is also good to carve out “areas of control” for your child so that they can feel a sense of reliability and control during a time when things feel unstable.
One last word: children who have domineering parents who use overly controlling methods to “discipline” often end up externally complying to avoid painful punishment. They may appear to be compliant individuals, but internally they are often resisting authority in their hearts. Instead of developing a spirit of confidence, they develop a spirit of fear and unquestioning compliance. They often become internally insecure — unable to make decisions for themselves, sometimes passive-aggressive and rarely expressing opinions and choices, though they may express judgement, especially judgement which aligns with the domineering parent’s viewpoints. These children may be prone to tattling and sibling rivalry (wishing to see anyone else suffer instead of being the brunt of punishment themselves). Part of instilling confidence in a child has to do with giving fair consequences to misbehavior rather than using a controlling approach in discipline. And, prior to leaning towards consequences for behaviors, we need to always look at the unmet needs in our child.
We may fear that we will create pride in our children or self-centeredness or self-reliance if we compliment them too much. At our home we make sure we draw out what is good in our child while giving the glory to God. We say things like, “God really made you special in that way. God made everyone special in different ways.” When a child is secure, they are anything but selfish. We have seen this in our own children. The more affirmed and secure they feel, the more giving and loving they are to others.
You can help your children develop confidence by being trustworthy yourself. You can call out their special traits, and affirm those talents and abilities when they exercise them well. You can give them opportunities to exercise new skills and cheer them on as they try new things. You can engage them in problem solving and help them to learn to be a part of the solution to situations they face.