“I don’t think I can do this.”
“It is too difficult for me to try.”
Almost everyday I meet teenagers who are clueless about what they want to do with their lives. As a career counselor, when I suggest them various career options based on of their potential and inherent capabilities, rather than seeing their excitement on the prospects what I hear are their doubts and reservations. These apprehensions primarily stem out of their lack of self-confidence and self-worth.
Ever wondered why are our children and teenagers so full of self-doubt? Why does this generation of English speaking youngsters who are well groomed, sent to best schools and provided with extravagant lifestyles, lack in self-assurance when it comes to decision-making and acting upon the choices they make?
The key reason that our youth is engulfed in self-doubt and self-deprecation is their poor self-concept. Self-concept means one’s idea of self which gets constructed by the beliefs formed about self. Since the beginning of our life, whatever happens in our life, contributes to the building of our self-concept or self-image.
Some of the most critical yet overlooked contributors are:
1. Love and affection of parents.
When a small child is unconditionally loved and showered affection at by parents and other elders the innocent mind of the child doesn’t think, “My mother is so loving.” It rather thinks, “I must be very special. That’s why my mother/father loves me so much.” Think of it. ‘I am good or special’, is a self-concept that gets constructed by something as natural as a mother’s love.
On the opposite hand, when a child is often reprimanded or scolded by a parent, the immature mind doesn’t form a bad image of the parent but of self. “My mother doesn’t like me. I must not be good.” Thus, the self-loathing self-concept is formed.
2. Appreciation from parents and teachers.
Few positive words of acknowledgment on any small and big feats of a child can form the positive self-belief and the exact opposite happens when criticism is spewed on the young mind. In our society, negative appraisal is granted easily to the young ones as it is considered as a motivator. Parents think that if they tell a child that he can’t do something, he will be prompted to do it and prove himself.
Little do these parents know that their critical words are actually dispiriting the child by forming the child’s image in his mind as someone incapable of doing the job. And Why not? Those words are coming from the ‘know it all’ parents who are idolized by the unknowing children.
The opposite happens when an encouraging parent or teacher tells another child that he can do something. The simple words paint a picture of a competent self in the child’s impressionable mind. The child just acts his image and sometimes even an average child outdoes others.
Many a times parents are wary of bestowing praises on their progeny as they worry that accolades may make them arrogant. It is a myth. Appreciation doesn’t lead to arrogance. It rather forms a self image that the child wants to live up to.
3. Acceptance of the individual.
When a child is accepted for who he is, he gains confidence in self. On the other hand, comparison and discrimination are confidence killers. When a child is discriminated and given differential treatment because of her gender, color of skin, shape of body, height, intelligence, talents, performance, etc. the feeling of being less creeps in.
Every child is unique in his unique self and shall be treated equally and fairly. Give your child respect for who he is and see the leap his self-confidence will make. And also protect your child from any discrimination he might be getting from other sources. The world is still full of its prejudices and our children need to be proofed from it with our confidence in them.
3. Accomplishments of the child.
The biggest motivator in one’s life is one’s own achievements. Our previous accomplishments are the reference points for our self-confidence for our next endeavors. When a child does well in her tests, exams or other competitions, the self-concept of being competent gets formed automatically. The child faces the next competition with her positive self-image and performs well again and the positive image gets further reinforced and then the cycle continues.
The opposite happens when a child doesn’t perform well consecutively a few times and then another pattern of failure persists. It is thus vital that a child does well in something or anything. It can be academically, in sports or in any curricular or extracurricular activity.
They say, “nothing succeeds like success.” That means every success leads to the next success because every success creates a successful self-concept in the person’s mind.
The renowned psychologist Erik Erickson in his psychosocial development theory has called the age between six to twelve years as the stage when every child has a crisis or conflict of industry and inferiority in her mind. A hardworking or industrious child succeeds and forms a positive self attitude and the not so hardworking kind forms an inferior self image.
Thus, victory or failure becomes a natural self expectation and we in easy language call it self-confidence or lack of confidence.
So, how do we enhance the confidence in a child? It is clear by now.
- Love your child. Shower your affections on him.
- Say encouraging words to your child. Give genuine appreciation whenever you get a chance.
- Help your child achieve. Tell him it is important to do well and make it happen together.
- Celebrate the successes and the failures. Celebrate the efforts.
- Never let your confidence in the child go low. Never give up hope in him.
- Teach him perseverance.
- Be a good role model yourself and share your stories.
A confident child is a dream of every parent and it is also your own creation. Your own small acts of love, kindness and empathy paint his best picture in your child’s mind. Be mindful of this and help his mind see him as a self-assured doer and capable of fulfilling his dreams.