My friend Ayala shared her difficulties with me: "I simply don't know how to help my daughter anymore. I've tried everything. I enrolled her in a horse-riding class because I was told it is very helpful. I encouraged her to learn how to play basketball and she did very well. She was even chosen to be on the school team. She studied ballet and excelled in it too, but nothing helps.
I went over with Ayala what characterized the course of action she had taken up until then in order to strengthen her daughter's self confidence and what everything she had tried had in common. As it turned out, the common denominator of all of Ayala's actions was that she depended on outside elements such as the ballet teacher, the basketball coach, etc. Many parents put in a lot of effort to help their children who suffer from a lack of self confidence. When these efforts don't work, they try even harder but using the same resources, instead of looking in a whole new course of action. Ayala complained, that everything that she had done in the past didn't help her daughter, so together, we searched for a new course of action, completely different from that taken up until then. The conclusion that Ayala reached, was that she herself had to change the way she communicated with her daughter.
"What do you do in order to strengthen your daughter's self confidence?" I asked Ayala. " I tell her how pretty and smart she is….. and just generally compliment her". "Does she have friends"? I asked. "If you ask me, she has lots of friends, the phone never stops ringing. But if you ask her, she's tell you that nobody likes her".. "What do you think she would say if you told her she was friendly?" I asked Ayala. "I've said that to her on more than one occasion but she tells me that I don't know what I'm talking about"…. "A teenager at the age of 11"… we both laughed. "Look at her", Ayala showed me a picture of her on her cell phone, "she's so pretty! How can she be so lacking in self confidence"?
Adolescents tend to not believe what their parents say and trust more in what their friends and peers say. Compliments from parents about a teen's good qualities will mostly fall on deaf ears.
So, how can we strengthen children's feeling of self-worth?
Express caring and love – in the form of touching or words. Children who feel loved experience a feeling of being worthy of that love.
Give them some responsibility – having responsibility gives the children a chance to succeed. This success will plant the belief that they have a chance at succeeding in other areas.
Trust them age appropriately – this will make them feel that are capable of handling this trust. Also let the environment know that they can be trusted and depended upon, so that the children feel empowered and able.
Provide them with challenges that will force them to make an effort and call upon capabilities they weren't aware of. These challenges are an opportunity for the kids to cope with difficulties, on the condition that you don't supply solutions for them, but let them work it out for themselves.
Complement their course of action with sentences such as: You coloured that beautifully, and didn't go out of the lines once!" Your perseverance in football is inspiring". How can you concentrate at the computer for two straight hours"? Saying these kinds of things will give them a believable clear picture of their capabilities and their strengths, and also awareness of their uniqueness.
Keep criticism to a minimum and forgive mistakes – children who experience constant criticism feel helpless and meaningless.
Use question marks and not only exclamation marks – asking the children real questions and consulting with them, will give them the feeling that their opinion matters, their knowledge is worthy and they are meaningful people.
Acknowledge your own uniqueness – a parent that is connected to his/her own capabilities, passes this strength on to the children. Children who feel a sense of worth and confidence in their abilities, are more active more creative and more successful. They can also deal more easily with social pressures.