Confidence in children begins by empowering them, by fostering their independence and allowing them the time to act on their natural curiosity. A confident child develops and displays belief in his or her abilities that manifests itself as self-trust. If we tell a child that we believe in them, then they start believing in themselves.
Self-esteem is the foundation when building a child’s confidence. Most people are surprised at how early it is developed in the child’s life. University of Washington researchers have found that “… by age 5 children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults.”
With that being said, the importance of independence in children aged 0-5 is emphasised. Independence in the home environment plays an important role in establishing a child’s confidence. How are independence and self-esteem correlated? Well, a child who is provided with the tools, given time and shown trust, is able to self-correct in their daily tasks. They are refining their skills, gaining knowledge and experiences and self-acknowledging their achievements throughout the process to achieve their goal. This knowledge about themselves, brings out their confidence. If they rely on adults, or ‘more able’ people, they may gain a sense of, “I’m unable, they are more skilled”. Allowing a child, the opportunity to self-correct, enables them to build their confidence and secure their independence.
Children come to realise that they are still in control of their own life even though their independence may be restricted due to tasks which they are unable to do independently. They are able to identify which tasks they can do and ask for help when needed. Independence does not involve pushing the child before they are ready to do something, or leaving them to struggle or ‘figure it out’ - the readiness has to be there. Otherwise, this may have an adverse impact, affecting the child’s self-esteem.
“If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. We must help them to learn how to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to pick up fallen objects, to dress and undress, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts” - Maria Montessori.
How do we manifest confidence in the children in the Montessori setting?
Vertical grouping - Children between the ages of three to six years old are grouped together which represents a family situation and support each other in learning and in creating a cohesive social unit. Younger children look up to and admire the older ones, and learn a lot through simply watching, or even from a direct lesson given by an older pupil. The older child gains self-esteem through helping others, while, at the same time, reinforcing their own learning by teaching on.
Independence - Children can go about their activities autonomously without having to ask for items or wait for the teacher to give permission. Energy is not wasted looking for what is not there and self-confidence is enhanced through making one's own decisions. The atmosphere is purposeful and productive, leading to a calm and relaxed environment.
Individualised learning – Following each child’s needs and interests, allowing them to work at their own pace.
Practice – Allowing the time for repetition, allowing the child to fully understand a concept before moving forward. Nurturing the child to build inner strength and confidence.
How can a child’s confidence be built outside the classroom?
Reinforce the child’s positive traits
Remind them of a skill they have already mastered and the work they put into that. Children may feel frustrated when trying to learn a new skill and they just aren’t getting it. “I remember when you learnt to tie your shoelaces. You tried so hard and look how easy it is for you to do now.”
Encourage the direction they have chosen.
As adults, we may not agree with what they child has chosen, but we need to encourage them to follow the decision they have made. Being their mentor and teaching the child, allowing time for repetition and practice, helps the child break down their fear that a task is too difficult. Change the word ‘can’t’ to ‘can’.
Show the child you trust them by giving them tasks to complete and allowing them to take responsibility for those tasks
Use the child’s strengths to assist them in daily tasks. Ask them for help! Let them know that you value their special talents. Let them feel like the expert and experience self-confidence that comes with the role.
Allow your child to fail to achieve success
Whoever learnt a lesson from succeeding the first time around? Everyone learns from their mistakes! Allow the child to learn from their mistakes rather than protecting them from failure. As adults, they will be able to succeed because of trial and error.
Phrases to give your child a boost and help instil a growth mindset:
“You seem discouraged. Tell me about it” – allow room to reflect
“I feel that way about myself sometimes too” – be vulnerable. Show the child that adults have those feelings too.
“Some things take a lot of practice” – let them know it is okay to need to practice before mastering something. Put the emphasis on hard work and practice, rather than talent and natural ability.
“I love you just the way you are” – there is nothing more comforting than hearing that you love them just the way they are, without expectations.
“You kept trying and figured it out all by yourself” – emphasis on the child’s intelligence may make them afraid. Try focus on praising the process. Emphasise their efforts. Let them know these are the things that matter.
Maria Deliyiannis is one of Little Gems Montessori pedagogues in our Larnaca setting. Maria's classroom is filled with positive encouragement and several confident little gems. Should you want to learn more about empowering your child, to encourage the development of confidence, please get in touch!