By Brandy Browne
Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” How do we build confidence in our children? How can we prepare them to face a world that has become increasingly critical?
There has been lengthy discussion lately on the growing epidemic our children are facing with feelings of inferiority. There is discussion on cultural perpetuations that contribute to this…the rise in social media, an unfair system used as a means to evaluate worth, etc. These challenges will continue to be an issue for our children, which makes the role played by parents in helping children and adolescents overcome these feelings of inferiority and grow into capable, confident children critical.
Dr. James Dobson (2015) identifies beauty, intelligence, wealth, athletic ability, family dynamics, etc. as just a few of the means by which young people judge the worth of themselves and others. For example, being seen as physically attractive is of utmost importance to a teenage girl. She wants to be beautiful and catch the eye of the young men and be the envy of the young women. Young men might tie athletic ability to their self worth. Failing to make the desired sports team can have a devastating impact on a young boy. Dobson articulates many strategies for helping our youth build their sense of self worth. For example, he stresses that parents should implement a “no knock” policy. This means that we should not tolerate our children speaking about themselves in a self deprecating manner. Children that suffer from lower self esteem often talk about themselves in a belittling manner to anyone that might listen. Dobson argues that speaking those depreciatory words into existence causes them to “become solidified as fact in one’s own mind” (Dobson, 2015, p 104). Our job as parents is to teach our children to see themselves as worthy, and negative self talk cannot accomplish this.
It is also worth noting that teaching children to compensate for their weaknesses can be a very valuable tool in your confidence building toolbelt. According to Dobson, “compensation is your child’s best weapon against inferiority” (Dobson, 2015, p 106). This strategy has the child hone in on developing strengths as a way to counterbalance weaknesses. This is very important for helping a child appreciate those strengths that he or she does possess and develop self confidence. It is also imperative to allow our children to suffer minor setbacks and disappointments from time to time. This is important because children will not learn to cope with frustration and disappointment if never faced with situations that warrant those particular emotions, and we will not be able to shelter them from those inevitable disappointments forever. It is far better to teach them how to handle negative emotions, not provide an “instant fix” for every problem that arises. Though we might disagree with the “system,” it is ultimately our job to help our children grow in ways that will enable them to be competitive with their same age peers. If our child is struggling with acne, see a dermatologist to help get it cleared up. If he or she is below grade level in reading, take advantage of tutoring programs to help him or her be more successful. If anxious thoughts are hindering him or her from being at his or her personal best, see a mental health professional.
As previously stated, Dobson (2015) argues that compensation is our children’s best weapon against inferiority. Reader (2019), registered psychologist agrees. She states, “Research suggests that the more you recognize your child for the strengths and positives that make them who they are, the more they are able to grow stronger in their strengths and to be more resilient” (Reader, 2019, retrieved from https://www.foothillsacademy.org/community-services/parenteducation/parent-articles/keeping-a-focus-on-strengths). The strengths model works to increase self esteem in our children, improve the parent-child relationship, and helps to support management of negative behaviors. If your child struggles with ADHD, for example, it can be really easy to focus on how impulsive he or she is, and one might become bogged down by how difficult that is to manage. That impulsivity, however, could serve them well later in life when it is easier for them to control. Children with ADHD are more comfortable taking creative risks, which could lead to new and creative ways to solve existing problems. Banes (2016) has a similar message. She affirms, “Those of us who are truly happy with our adult lives have learned to do things we are good at and not stress about the rest. We probably delegate or outsource the things we’re really bad at. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self efficacy and confidence” (Banes, 2016, retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/04/01/6-ways-good-parents-contribute-to-their-childs-anxiety/%3foutputType=amp).
Barnes cautions of overplaying strengths to the point it causes our children additional anxiety, however. If we are constantly telling everyone that our child is brilliant and bound for an Ivy league college, it puts added pressure on them to perform at their very best all the time. Too much affirmation can turn to undue pressure for a child with perfectionist tendencies as is. Dobson articulates that “inferiority can either crush and paralyze an individual, or it can provide tremendous emotional energy to power every kind of success and achievement” (Dobson, 2015, p 108). It is our job as parents not to remove every struggle for our children, but to help them find their niche in an area that satisfies them emotionally and that they want to explore. Sometimes, as parents, we must force our children to branch out and explore new areas. For example, maybe a child is enrolled in piano lessons. At the beginning, it is not their idea, and it is a struggle. However, eventually, the child develops a love for music and becomes a skilled pianist. Without a push from mom or dad, the child might have never discovered the piano. Helping our children recognize a strength and pour energy into it sets the background for nearly every kind of successful human behavior later in life. Those that we tend to think of as successful have invested much time perfecting a craft that someone noticed they had an aptitude for. Dobson (2015) uses the example of Eleanor Roosevelt in his text. Roosevelt was orphaned at a young age, did not seem to “belong” to anyone, was not what society deemed physically attractive, and was painfully shy. Yet, she overcame those obstacles to become one of the most influential women of the twentieth century. Parents should begin to give their children choices that will set them up to compensate for weaknesses by middle childhood years. Helping our children focus on building strengths sets them up for a healthy identity formation later in life. Otherwise, they will likely pick less healthy methods of coping with the crippling inferiority that one often feels during the teen/adolescent years.
In conclusion, building confidence within your child is an ongoing mission for parents. Our greatest goal should always be focused on building confident capable humans who will go out into the world and make a difference.
Banes, K. (2016). 6 ways good parents contribute to their child’s anxiety. Washington Post.
Dobson, J. (2015). Building confidence in your child. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell.
Reader, M. (2019). Keeping a focus on strengths: Managing self esteem, relationships, and
behaviors. Foothills Academy. Retrieved from