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Self reliance and self confidence in children and teens

##self-reliance , #self-confidence , #parenting , #calmer parenting

Self-reliance and self-confidence are linked. When children do things by themselves, make decisions for themselves without external help, they understand that they are capable and they become more confident in their capacities.

But often parents do things for their children, either by habit or because their children are reluctant to do things. Parents tie the shoes of their 4 y.o or prepare the soccer bag for their 10y.o. Even for teens, they tend to do far too many things, for example, they put cereals and milk on the table for their teen’s breakfast. By doing so, parents miss opportunities to develop self-reliance and self-confidence.

Develop self reliance on all aspects of life

There are many areas for self-reliance : playing independently, getting dressed on their own, preparing their school and activities bags, helping with house chores, tidying their bedroom, starting their homework, managing reasonably pocket money, etc.

Parents can play a significant role in developing both self-reliance and self-confidence in all these areas. Here are some keys to help !

Limited choices

Offering limited choices instead of making demands is very effective in two ways. It helps the child be more cooperative. For example, rather than say, “Get dressed”, you could say : “Do you want to put your trousers first or your shirt first, or do you want to blue or the red jeans”. Here is another example during homework. Instead of saying “you have to read this text here”, you can say “Do you want to start with reading or math?”. Even for teens, you could say : “Do you prefer to receive your pocket money in cash or have a card?” It is very helpful that your child start thinking by themselves. Off course, both options need to be OK with you.. 

Descriptive praise

Descriptive praise is the technique that boosts self-reliance and self-confidence. It is about noticing and mentioning every little step in the right direction. It is different from evaluative praise that we as parents we tend to use. Typical evaluative praise is “Great ! Fantastic, good boy!”. The problems with these are : 

-      They are over the top praises and children do not believe in your enthusiasm. They think you say so just to please them.

-      They do not give any indication as to WHAT is great, so it is not easy for a child to know HOW he/she can do to get the praise again

-      They cannot be used for little steps and efforts in the right direction. So, parents miss opportunities to motivate and encourage their children. They would not say to their teen “That’s great, you have started preparing your soccer bag!”, it would sound odd as it is what is expected from their teen, so there is nothing fantastic about it and the teen knows it. On the contrary, you can use descriptive and in the same situation and say “I can see that you thought about preparing your soccer bag. You have already put your soccer shoes inside.”


The praise I am talking about is descriptive and factual. For example, when your 4 y.o. starts lacing their shoes, you could say : ”I can see that you have started tying your shoes by yourself, I did not have to ask you to and you did not just wait for me to come and do it.”

To reinforce your descriptive praise, you can add a quality, for example, using the previous situations, you could say “I can see that you have started tying your shoes, that shows self-reliance!” or ““I can see that you thought about preparing your soccer bag. You have already put your soccer shoes inside, you are becoming organised”. Qualities help children define themselves around positive values rather than negative ones that parents tend to use (“You so lazy”, “That is really stupid of you”, “Come on, don’t be so selfish with your siblings”,…).


I recommend saying 10 praises a day per child. That may sound a lot at first, but with a few days practice, you will see it become quickly a -positive and beneficial- habit in your home.


Questions & answers


1 – Will my child become so used to descriptive praise that he/she may be lost in a different environment (at school for example) ?


Parents fear that they do not prepare their child for the “real world”. But consider that if you are not positive and motivating for your child, who will ? In addition, praising your child reinforces his/her view that he/she is capable and worth it. It helps with their self-esteem and self-confidence.

In addition, you child is likely to better resist negative comments or peer pressure if you have created a positive and motivated environment at home.

2 – I think my teens will look at me like I have just landed from Mars if I start descriptively praising. How can I explain what I am doing ? 

They may indeed be surprised, but persevere. You can say “In the past I made a lot of mistakes as parent, I used to point to what you were doing wrong and to nag or shout at you. I have now decided to change and I will notice when you do things right”. It is unlikely they answer “No please, continue as before!”.


3 – You mention that children should have a share of household chores. But how can I do it with my 3 children, the youngest is just 4 !

Every child can (and should!) help. Studies show that children who are given house chores tend to be more self-confident ! Here are a few examples of what you can ask :

-      3 years old : bring the spoons to the table.

-      10 years old : set the table for the whole family

-      12 years old : vacuum the dining room once a week.

-      15 years old : go for grocery shopping and cook dinner

Every child even if they have a disability (permanent or temporary) should contribute at the level of their capacity. A child in a wheel chair could bring a few things from the kitchen table to the dining room for example.


4 - I have heard that parents should praise efforts rather than results, but I like praising results too ! For example when my child’s team wins a basketball game ! Should I refrain from it ?

As a parent, you should feel free to praise anything you want ! Children feel appreciated when they are praised and it helps build their self-confidence. Praising efforts is interesting and presents the additional benefits of developing perseverance. Because, as we all know as adults, we do not always get what we want even if when we do efforts. It is a way to prepare them for that !


5 - My teen says “I am too fat”, what can I do to help her because she really is not fat !

Some children and teens in particular are more sensitive to peer pressure. Your daughter may have heard someone say so about her and she may feel uncomfortable about it. Or she may have noticed on social networks some girls of her age are thinner (that is one of the many problems with SN).

You may first say that social networks are not real life and that you do not agree that she is fat (both parents should tell her mother and her father). Then, it is important that you help her feel more confident by drawing her attention to many qualities she has and that are not limited to physical criteria. Descriptive praise will help. You can praise how some clothes suit her, you can notice her sense of organization, you can mention her capacity to make friends,… Off course, every time give specific examples that make you say so. You could say “I heard your friend talk to you about her problem, it looks like you are a reliable and trusted friend !”. You may not believe it but try for a few weeks 10 descriptive praises a day and see the results by yourself !




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