safbaby-confidence1After the “lazy days of summer”, kids are back in school…back to schoolwork, friends, and activities.  The daily experiences of school life – successes, frustrations, friendships, challenges, winning and losing – provide an opportunity for kids to learn problem solving and develop resiliency and self confidence.

Confidence comes from something concrete; it comes from ability.  Confidence is a by-product of mastering something new…maybe even something you never thought you could do!  Unfortunately, the process of developing confidence can often be short-circuited by well-meaning adults who swoop in and “save” kids from difficult experiences in what they think is an effort to help them.

Many kids have been victims of the “self-esteem movement” where parents over-praise kids in an effort to build them up.  The idea is that you can praise a child into self-confidence.  But, think about what really boosts your confidence: it’s not when someone says you’re the best, it’s when you feel you’ve mastered something.

Research shows that empty praise actually shortchanges kids, leaving them without the resiliency they need when they don’t score a goal, ace a test, or get a part in the school play.

In one study, Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, Ph.D., found that kids whose parents praised them for being smart didn’t do as well in school as children whose parents praised them for their effort.  Dweck’s research also discovered that a childhood filled with a barrage of you-can-do-no-wrong praise dampens a child’s motivation to go the extra mile, especially when it comes to activities or subject that aren’t his strengths.

So, how can you build resilience in your child?  Madeline Levine, Ph.D., psychologist and author of  Teach Your Children Well says when children experiment, take risks, make mistakes, get hurt, feel disappointed (sometimes bitterly so), and then figure out – mostly on their own – how to recover, they are more confident.

Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking says “stepping in to fix every dilemma doesn’t give children an advantage.  It actually stops them from learning how to handle difficult situations.”

Free play, exercise and motor learning provide ideal opportunities for children to build confidence in early childhood.  To learn new athletic skills, children must repeat and keep trying to master a skill.  Frustration is often part of the experience, and the reward of achievement and confidence comes after hard work and perseverance.  During free play children learn social skills as they take turns, create rules and follow them, role play, negotiate, compromise, and win and lose.  When young children engage in free play (without adult interference), they build the skills and confidence they will need for resilience in later school years.

So, when your school-age child experiences inevitable frustrations and set-backs this school year, help her by giving her time and space to solve the problem.  Listen to her, guide her with encouragement and wisdom, and let her figure it out.  You’ll help raise a confident, resilient child with the strength to handle future challenges in life.

For strong kids,

SAFbaby’s Health Expert Adviser Doreen Bolhuis

Doreen Bolhuis is the President/CEO of Gymco Inc., a multi-sport facility for children in its 31st year of operation in Grand Rapids, MI.  Doreen is the creator of Gymtrix, an innovative DVD series to teach physical literacy for babies – 10 yrs.  She is a co-founder and partner of Motion Evolution, a licensed national fitness and physical literacy program for children.  Doreen’s passion is advocating healthy lifestyles and fighting obesity by empowering parents to create active kids from infancy.

Doreen holds a B.S. degree in Physical Education, Health and Recreation.  She has over 35 years experience teaching locally, nationally and internationally and is currently an adjunct professor for Aquinas College in the department of Health and Physical Education.  Doreen has appeared in local, national and international media (CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, The N.Y. Times) as a guest expert in Physical Literacy.  Doreen is a former elite level gymnastics coach and member of the Junior Olympic Committee for USA Gymnastics.