Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you are an essential part of your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship while building a sense of confidence in your child so that they can work toward their goals and succeed in school and life.
Confidence simply means a belief in self. But, from where does that confidence come? It begins with the trusting relationship you work to develop with your child. The bond you have with your child forms a solid foundation from which your child can feel safe to explore the world. For your one-year-old to feel a secure attachment, they have to feel comfort, support, and safety from you and that you are responsive to their needs.
One-year-olds build their social and emotional skills through loving interactions with you and your responses to their needs. As children develop their social and emotional skills, they also build their sense of confidence. As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you can foster confidence through your relationship with your child by focusing your attention on helping your child grow social and emotional skills. Confidence is…
- Self-awareness: your child’s deepening sense of who they are, understanding their identity and their strengths and limitations.
- Self-management: your child learning to manage their feelings constructively, such as when you help them calm down when they’re upset.
- Social awareness: your child’s ability to see from another’s perspective and to empathize with others.
- Relationship skills: your child’s new capacity to initiate, grow, and sustain healthy relationships with others.
- Responsible decision making: laying the groundwork for your child’s ability to reflect – before choosing words or actions – on the consequences in order to not cause harm.
Emerging confidence in children begins with confident parents — parents who are committed to learning from and with their child. Confident parents are not perfect. They simply offer themselves the grace and permission to reflect on and learn from their mistakes. Mistakes do not define who they are.
The key to many parenting challenges, like building confidence, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s your one-year-old crying when you leave their sight or your own feelings of inadequacy when trying to respond to your child’s frustration, establishing regular ways to build a trusting connection along with teaching your child vital skills will build confidence.
Today, in the short term, building confidence can create
- greater opportunities for connection, cooperation, and enjoyment;
- trust in each other; and
- a sense of wellbeing and motivation to engage.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building confidence in your child
- develops a sense of safety, security, and a belief in self;
- builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your child build confidence. It also builds important critical life skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Getting to Know and Understand your Child’s Input
One-year-olds are starting to verbalize their needs by babbling, crying, and starting to use single words. Despite your child’s emerging ability to use words, continue to pay close attention to their facial expressions, movements, and sounds in order to work on understanding what they are trying to communicate. Your efforts to learn from your child build trust and create empathetic interactions that promote confidence. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts and feelings about confronting challenges so that you can address them. In becoming sensitive to the nuances of your child’s verbal and nonverbal expressions, you
- are responding to their needs;
- are growing their trust in you, sense of safety, and sense of healthy relationships;
- are growing motivation for you and your child to work together;
- are improving your ability to communicate with one another;
- are growing your own and their self-control (to calm down when upset and focus their attention); and
- are modeling empathy and problem-solving skills.
- Consider how your child reacts when they are upset, angry, or frustrated.
- How do they show you? Children at this age may cry, yell, hit, bite, or throw things. They can still be soothed by cuddling and rocking and are learning to self-soothe when upset.
- If a child is crying, offer to hold them or provide comfort items like a favorite teddy bear or a blanket. Do not attempt to talk anything through when a child is highly upset. Focus on calming down first.
- If a child hits or bites in anger or frustration, stop and say, “Ouch. That hurts my arm, and it makes me feel sad” or “I see you are frustrated.”
- Consider how your child reacts when they are happy or excited.
- How do they show you? Children at this age clap their hands, imitate others, smile, squeal, and laugh when they are happy or excited.
- Consider how your child reacts when they are scared.
- How do they show you? Children at this age are more aware of their surroundings, which can make them afraid of new things or sounds. They may cry, withdraw, or hide.
- Each time your child expresses any big feeling, be sure and name the feeling. “You seem angry” or “You seem happy.” This builds their feelings vocabulary adding to their self-awareness and ability to manage their feelings.
As you react to your child in ways that soothe, you will find they will feel a greater sense of your understanding and responsiveness so that your interactions become more two-way instead of one-way.
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, there is a lot to learn about understanding your child’s rhythms, temperaments, and needs. Because of all of this learning, you will make mistakes and even poor choices. How you handle those moments can determine how you help build your child’s confidence. Offering yourself the grace and permission to not be perfect can ease your anxiety in responding to your child’s needs. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent better understand what their child is going through.1 Here are some examples:
- 12-18-month-olds will respond to their name and may use 5 to 10 words. They are starting to combine words with gestures and are starting to follow simple directions and remember recent events and actions. They may feel uneasy when separated from their loved ones.
- 12-18-month-olds are beginning to walk independently, can stack blocks, and point to objects of interest.
- 18-24-month-olds can understand 10 times more than they can speak, are starting to respond to questions, can point to familiar objects and people in pictures, and are starting to follow two-step directions. They are also starting to want to try things on their own.
- 18-24-month-olds are becoming able to throw and attempt to catch a ball without losing their balance, enjoy playing with new toys in varying ways, and usually participate in getting dressed without becoming upset.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.
- Read and pretend play together.
- During reading time, select a book with faces to help your child learn to identify the different feelings. Point out how you can tell what each face is feeling, and practice recreating those cues with your child.
- After reading a story together, act out the story and use feeling words and expressions to match how the characters were feeling throughout the story. This expands their feelings vocabulary and teaches them how to recognize a wide range of perspectives and feelings that they might not encounter in day-to-day interactions with others.
- Narrate your daily routines. As you prepare breakfast at home or go shopping together at the store, talk about what you are doing each step of the way. Involve your child by asking questions. For example, “I am getting out your favorite cereal bowl. I think we’ll have some cereal this morning. Does that sound yummy to you?”
- Narrate your feelings. As you are going through your bedtime routine, talk about what you are doing each step of the way. Involve your child by asking questions. For example, you might say, “I just yawned and am feeling sleepy. Do you think I should take a nap?”
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your child to practice new vital skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themself.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy — a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes are part of learning.
- Allow your child the chance to take steps to meet their big challenges, whether they are working on tasting new foods for the first time, exploring the objects in their environment, or attempting to communicate with new words or phrases.
- Create opportunities for simple ways that your child can help with grown-up tasks to build their sense of confidence. They may not be able to complete the tasks independently, and sometimes you will have to go slower to allow them to participate. But, their participation is an important chance for them to practice and grow confidence. Examples include simple things like walking beside you as you carry out the trash, helping to set the table by carrying the napkins, or helping to match socks in the laundry.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like, “I noticed how you helped get your shirt on by putting your arms up.”
- Consider how you can create the conditions to support their success like creating a quiet, organized environment with age-appropriate board books, toys, or creative supplies.
- Initially, practice may require more teaching, but avoid taking over and doing it for your child.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you are developing your child’s skills and growing their confidence by allowing them to practice, so they can learn how to do those new tasks well and independently. You can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, and coaching. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
- Initially, your child may need active support. Use “Show me…” statements and ask them to demonstrate how they can work hard toward a goal. When a child learns a new skill, they are eager to show it off! “Show me how you can put your blocks into the box. This is part of our clean up routine.” Offer support so your child can be successful.
- Don’t move on quickly if your child shows interest in trying something new. Children often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to gain skills over time.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you were able to take your socks off before your bath.”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your child is scared of new people or situations, offer confidence in your child’s ability to face the unfamiliar. In a gentle, non-public way, you can whisper in your child’s ear, “This is my friend Anna. I am excited for you to meet her.”
- Actively reflect on how your child is feeling when approaching challenges. You can offer reflections like:
- You seem worried about going into this new store. I’ll hold you so you feel more confident.” Offering comfort when facing new situations can help your child gain a sense of security and face them rather than backing away.
- You can also offer comfort items to help your child face new challenges. “Would your bear help you feel better?”
- Take steps to support your child if they experience separation anxiety. Be certain you are placing your child in the care of someone you trust so that you feel safe leaving your child in that person’s care. Give your child a piece of you (blanket, scarf) to have while you’re gone. Express your love and explain to them when you’ll return in terms of activities: “You’ll finish lunch, and then I’ll be back!” Leave without lingering but don’t sneak out.
Separation anxiety, though developmentally normal, can be stressful for both parent and child. Take deep breaths and time to calm down after leaving your child in caring hands.
Step 5. Recognize and Celebrate
There are so many amazing changes and developments to celebrate with your child. Each little achievement is something worth recognizing and celebrating.
Taking the time to recognize and celebrate can promote safe, secure, and nurturing relationships. It makes children feel secure and loved, which helps their brains develop. It builds a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
Though it is easy to overlook, your attention is your child’s sweetest reward. Your recognition can go a long way to promoting more positive behaviors and expanding your child’s self-esteem and confidence. You can recognize and celebrate your child with the following actions.
- Smile at your child.
- Make eye contact.
- Use caring facial expressions.
- Be physically gentle and caring with your child.
- Recognize and call out when all is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. If your child cried when you had to leave the playground yesterday but seems perfectly content today, notice their newfound comfort. “I notice you are OK as we leave the playground today. That is so helpful!”
- Build celebrations into your everyday routines. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.
This year is filled with amazing changes — and not just for your child. Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your own development and milestones as a parent.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, and to work on their relationship skills.