7 Ways To
Build Your Child’s Confidence
Our children with special needs know we love them and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. No matter how hard we try to help them realize this, some may still struggle with self-confidence. Here are a few ways to help your child build self-confidence at home.
1. Open up about your struggles
Talk to your child about how everyone has struggles, even you. Open up about the things you find difficult and how you overcome them. Focus not on the difficulty, but on the solution.
Example: If you have trouble remembering the items on your grocery list, you can tell your child, “I have a hard time remembering what I’m supposed to buy at the store. So, I solve that by making lists on my phone and reading them at the store.” Then, focus on how you and your child can overcome his struggles with helpful tools like lists or other strategies.
2. Give clear feedback without being critical.
Focus on the problem, not the child. Even if your child makes a mistake, she isn’t the problem. The mistake is the problem. You know that, but she may not, unless you spell it out. Children often take criticism personally. Beyond taking criticism personally, children may not clearly understand what they can do to improve themselves. You may have to spell that out too.
Example: If you child always makes a mess, instead of saying, “You’re so messy,” say “Your clothes are all over the floor and your plates from dinner are on the counter. Please pick them up before you go outside to play.”
3. Foster a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is the belief that abilities can improve over time (rather than the belief that a person is permanently bad at something). Helping your kids believe that they can grow is crucial to their development.
Foster a growth mindset by focusing on what your child can do to improve rather than focusing on what she is unable to do well.
Example: Say your child has dyslexia and says “I can’t read 4th grade level books. They’re too hard.” It’s best to answer with a comment like, “Yup, reading is tough for you now. I know you could improve and read those books one day. Let’s figure out a way to do that.”
4. Mistakes are not failures. They’re learning experiences.
When your child makes a mistake, he might feel defeated or inferior. Help him focus on ways to act differently next time to prevent the mistake from happening again…rather than dwelling on the mistake itself.
Example: Say your child is doing crafts, spills paint all over the paper and ruins his picture. You could say, “Yes, I see that you spilled the paint. Next time, how about we put the paint down further away from your arms, so you don’t knock it over when you move.”
5. Praise effort and process, not just the end result.
It unhelpful to only give praise when the end result is fantastic. It’s equally unhelpful to tell a child she did everything perfectly and she’s the best in the world at something when it’s not true. Children build confidence when parents recognize what they can do and give specific and honest praise.
Example: If your child is working hard on a page full of math problems and does two out of ten correctly, you could say something like, “I can see that you worked very hard and I’m proud of your effort. I’m impressed by the way that you focused, did your addition on your fingers, and wrote so neatly on these two problems! Let’s try to do the same thing on every problem next time!”
6. Encourage extracurricular
Find an extracurricular activity your child enjoys and can excel in. Try sports, music or art or other hobbies. Based on your child’s personality, abilities and confidence level, there are plenty of competitive and non-competitive options.
The opportunity to show abilities in something outside of academics can give children a great deal of confidence. It can also help them realize that their struggles in school don’t define them.
7. Point out successful role models who have special needs.
There are plenty of adults with special needs who have succeeded in life. Point these people out to your child and tell stories about their struggles and achievements. There are athletes, celebrities, politicians, and other productive independent adults who have Autism, learning disabilities, Down Syndrome, and other special needs.
Examples: British actors Tommy Jessop and Paula Sage have Down Syndrome. Jerry Seinfeld has Autism. Kiera Knightly, Justin Timberlake, Steven Spielberg, Michael Phelps and other celebrities reportedly have learning disabilities. This just names a few, but there are many more!
Be The Best YOU!
As parents of children with special needs, it’s often hard to convince our children to stop comparing themselves to others who are more “typical.” After all, in the world of typical children, being “good at something” means being good in comparison to others. As parents, we can help our children expand their views on what “good” and “great” mean. We can help them realize that they will achieve their own version of greatness by being best and healthiest versions of themselves.