Rebuilding a child’s confidence

As an infant, my eldest daughter, Lucy, could have been considered a very confident little baby. Not a lot phased her, she rarely objected to strangers holding her and in play group settings, was very interactive with other babies and seemed happy to explore her environment, paying little attention to where I was. She was never a clingy baby and I always marvelled at her confidence to try new things that, to me, seemed beyond her capabilities. Lucy has always displayed exceptional intelligence and physical ability and has a beautiful heart, but somewhere along the way, my little girl’s confidence has been knocked. No longer is she always such a happy, carefree girl, and although this shift in confidence has been gradual and is peaking just as she approaches the age of two (a tough developmental stage), I can’t help but think that maybe there were some areas of my parenting that in some way contributed to Lucy’s change of nature.

I have decided to break it up into the four areas which I think may not have been ideal for supporting the confidence she was innately born with:

1. Putting her into situations she was not ready for:

I used to have so much fun taking Lucy to the park when she was just a small baby. She seemed to love being pushed in the swing and being slid down the slippery slide. I would also help her climb up large structures by supporting and boosting her up. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that by putting her into situations that she could not get into herself, I was unwittingly conveying the message that her actual abilities were not good enough. Then, it was a little like a perpetual roundabout that was difficult to get off. The more we did this, the more Lucy wanted to do it and the more she would become frustrated when she couldn’t. In a previous post, I spoke about my natural desire to want to see my child achieve her milestones. I would try to aide her rolling by helping her onto her tummy or back when she was clearly trying to do this herself but not quite making it. I believe this may have kick started her ‘frustration squeal’ and perhaps made her question the confidence she had in her own ability to do things herself, as well as maybe making her feel she was inadequate because she couldn’t do it. After helping her do something before she had the muscular control to do it herself, she would always want to keep doing it. Her screams of frustration would increase until I would come and assist her again. The same happened when she was thinking about crawling. On hands and knees, I would gently guide her hand forward, followed by her knee to show her the motions. It wasn’t long before she realised that she couldn’t crawl herself and needed me to help her – the screams continued. Then came the walking and so on. To her, it seemed that what she was capable of doing in the here and now was never good enough and my pushing her into things she wasn’t ready for was only fuelling this thought.

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2. Playing too well with her:

When Lucy was younger, I loved playing with her. It was like I was reliving my own childhood. I loved to build her towers that she could knock down and then help her to build her own. When we played with play dough, I would be right beside her playing too. I would make lovely shapes and figures and tell stories with them whilst Lucy looked on with her big ball of mushed play dough. When she would colour with her pencils, I would enjoy colouring in myself, being sure to stay neatly inside the lines. Little did I realise that  by engaging with Lucy’s play in this way I was undermining her confidence. She would see what I was doing and when she realised she could not do it as well as I could, she would give up. In hindsight, she communicated this to me well before she could speak. If she was building blocks beside me and was having trouble stacking more than three blocks, whilst I was easily building a great tower she would aggressively knock both hers and mine over with a yell of frustration and move onto something else. Her reaction with the playdough was very similar and when we would colour, if she stopped to look up at mine, she would see how neat it was and then quickly scribble over the top of it and tear her own page or throw her book on the ground. She knew there was no way she could complete the tasks to the standard she thought she had to, so she would vent her frustration and then destroy my creations, maybe trying to tell me I was expecting too much. I was teaching her how to do things properly but I hadn’t realised that, in a child’s eyes, there is no such thing as properly until you show them there is.

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3. Helping too much when frustrations set in:

It is so instinctive to want to jump to the rescue of a child who is crying out for help. It is an easy fix. You solve whatever problem is ailing them and then they’re happy, you’re happy because they’re happy and everyone can go on happily playing. Problem is, when you do this, you are giving them the message that they can’t do it on their own. Therefore, when the same or a similar situation arises, the child will continue to cry out for help, lacking their own confidence to work it out for themselves.  When I think about it, I helped Lucy from early on by handing her the toy she was reaching for, just out of her reach. As she grew older I helped her with puzzles, shape sorters and other toys that required problem solving. I would unhook her pram when it got stuck on something as she pushed it and turn her posting cards around the right way for her so she could post them into the box easily. I thought I was helping her through her struggles; I was showing her how to do things so she would quickly learn and not have to struggle anymore. Problem was, she wasn’t given the opportunity to work things out for herself and by helping her through her frustrations, I  was conveying a message that she was incapable of doing it on her own.

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4. Providing her with too many electronic toys:

Complex in their design but simple in their operation, electronic toys gave Lucy a false sense of her ability. With many of her electronic toys, she could simply press a button or pull a handle and something amazing would happen. It was so easy for her that when given an inert toy that did not have a button to push or lever to pull, she had unrealistic expectations of what should happen with these toys. When she could not get something to perform for her easily, she would give up and may have even questioned her ability to work it. She had little perseverance for problem solving type toys perhaps because she believed that she was unable to do them.

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Following RIE philosophies, I am now in the process of building Lucy’s confidence back up to where it should be. As I undertake this task, I am mindful that this is not a quick fix and will take a great deal of dedication, patience and reassurance. I now refrain from my own desires to play with my child and when I do, I am always careful to allow her to guide the play and tell me what to do, rather than the other way around. Electronic toys are a thing of the past and she is now able to engage in skill building, problem solving and open ended toys for longer periods of time. If she cannot climb it, jump it, get into it or on it then she doesn’t get any assistance from me other than gentle support with comments like ‘I can see you’re trying really hard. It’s difficult to climb over that climbing frame. If you’d like to keep trying I will stay right beside you for support’. By substituting the old methods for these new ones, I am slowly starting to see a change in the spirit of my little girl and I hope Lucy will go on to climb mountains, full of confidence that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to in life.IMG_0679

One more story to tell… just the other day, long after I had made all of the above realisations, I had had a rather disorganised day and found myself in the kitchen cooking dinner with very little time before I knew the hunger pains would be setting in for the children. I had decided that rissoles would be a quick easy dinner. I threw all the ingredients in a bowl and that was as far as I got before Lucy climbed up onto the bench stool looking for food. I did not want to give her a snack as I knew dinner was so close so I decided to engage her services in preparing the rissoles with me. It started off beautifully. We both put our hands in the wonderfully gooey mince, egg, bread crumb, sauce, herb and grated carrot mixture and squished it between our fingers and through our hands until it was all mixed in. Then we needed to form the rissole patties. I got us both a plate and we started forming them. I made a perfectly round rissole, flattened it slightly then lay it on my plate. I got some more mixture and repeated the process, each time lying the rissole neatly on the plate next to the previous one. In the meantime, Lucy was doing the same, except after rolling it in her tiny hands and then flattening it onto the plate, her rissoles were nothing like my perfectly formed patties. I thought little of it and encouraged her with comments like ‘that’s it, you did it! Thank you for helping.’ She looked so proud of herself; however, when she glanced up at one stage and saw that her rissoles looked nothing like mine, her smile evaporated and she immediately took both her hands and squished up her plate of rissoles before starting on mine. I had unwittingly re-enacted our earlier play dough play dates with a simple household task that I thought she would enjoy. Quickly realising this, I took a step back and said ‘Oh, wow, you didn’t like my rissoles. Would you like to design our rissoles tonight? I can see that you have some other ideas for how they could look. Lets try some of yours.’ Sceptical, at first, eventually she dove back into the mince mixture and continued to make her rissoles her way whilst I watched and prepared some other vegetables. Funnily enough, they still tasted the same once they were cooked and Lucy had the pride of being able to tell her Daddy that she had made the rissoles.

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About Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids

Hi, my name is Kate. I have been a Physical Education/ Maths teacher for 12 years and am currently taking some time out to be a Mum. I have two beautiful girls aged 2 and 1 (13 month age gap). I have learned that there is so much more to parenting than 'going with your instincts' and treasure all the rewards my children present to me everyday. I have a passion for sports and have recently discovered an addiction to sewing. Thank you for taking some time out to read my ramblings :)
This entry was posted in Building Confidence, Parenting Peacefully and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Rebuilding a child’s confidence

  1. I agree with what you have said here about following the child and giving them freedom to navigate their own situations; particularly when they are little infants and helping them to roll and walk. And even as they grow it is important to wait until they ask for any help and follow their lead, not assuming or forcing they might like to do something. Today at the park I watched as a father well-meaningly took his son off the swing and over to the slide so Sarah could have a turn. The boy didn’t want to get off, he didn’t want to go on the slide, but he was made to and plopped on to the top of the slide.

    I do think however that it is important for us to be confident working and playing alongside our children. I think we should build and draw and play at a level comfortable for us; not conveying an attitude of ‘this is how it’s done’ but rather, all our efforts are valuable. Like reading for example, I know that in time both Jack and Sarah will learn to read, until then we read together.

    You know I agree whole-heartedly with your third and most definitely your last point. Funnily, since Jack and Sarah don’t have any battery-operated toys, when they come across them they are quite mesmerised by them almost to a zombie state. Every time it reaffirms to me the value simple open-ended toys.

    Lovely post as always 🙂

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  2. Schelle says:

    I wonder if I have realized this all too late for my seven year old?? My 9 month old girl is so different, and while I know it is partially temperament, it also has a lot to do with parenting (particularly mine), which was exactly as you describe, with my eldest boy. My 4 year old boy (whom I thought of as neglected, because he didn’t have all that ‘wonderful’ one on one play time) is much more resilient, although he, too has confidence problems. I have only just discovered RIE and have not completely broken myself of my bad habits, but I the results I see from the changes made so far make me wish I could go back and start again 😦

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    • Hi Schelle, I believe that with RIE, whilst it is ideal to start them as newborns, it is NEVER too late to start parenting with the respect that is inherent in all the RIE philosophies. It will take a great deal of patience on both your’s and your children’s part but with open communication with each other and perseverance I think you will see the benefits quite quickly. I know what you mean though. My eldest was 18 months when I discovered RIE. I was racked with guilt for not doing earlier all the things that I read on the RIE blog posts. It has taken me a good 8 months or more to break old habits I had formed and I know I still have a lot to learn about the intricacies of RIE parenting. I console myself with the fact that I am now trying my best to parent more gently and respectfully and that I know the children will still benefit from this in both the short and long term. Don’t give up, but try not to be too hard on yourself when your old habits pop up or you just have a hard day. Know that by just being here, reading about this and responding to blog posts etc you are absolutely doing the best you can by your children. Good luck with it and let me know how you’re getting on from time to time xx

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  3. Katie Olliffe says:

    I read your blogpost with interest. I already gad an inkling that I may have played some part in my older child’s lack of confidence and fear of trying new things. My eldest son is about to turn 6. He lacks confidence when facing something new to the point that he would rather not try for deal of not being able to do something. I feel so sad when I think about all of the times I undermined his own ability, particularly as I haven’t made the same mistakes with his younger brother – who as a result is über confident, and will not give up! I am trying very hard to rectify the situation with my eldest by respecting his abilities, not trying to talk him into doing things he isn’t ready for etc. at school his teacher says he gets very frustrated if he can’t do something perfectly, first time. I have a lot of work to do and as he is that much older, I think it will take a lot longer. I wish I’d been respectful of his own pace and realised before I had him that he knew what he was ready for and didnt need me to fix everything for him. I am going to share your blogpost on my page in the hope that someone else starting out on their parenting journey finds it useful! Thanks! X

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    • Hi Katie, It sounds as though you are doing a wonderful job at working with your son to improve his confidence. I know first hand that it is not easy and I agree that it will take a great deal of time, patience and perseverance on both your parts (your’s and your son’s). I have found that by not pushing my daughter into anything, but rather, waiting until she shows an interest or in some way indicates she would like to do something, her frustrations have reduced. I still try to expose her to lots of different things but I always leave her level of participation entirely up to her.
      The reason I began this blog was to try to help other families who may not have heard of this parenting approach. I was so amazed at how much it transformed our lives that I felt strongly that others needed to know about it! I hope too that by you sharing it on your page a new parent will find it useful. Thanks for reading my posts and let me know how you’re getting on with it all in the future.
      Kate xx

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  4. Thanks for your honesty, Kate. I wrote this post a little while ago. I didn’t post it straight away as I knew some of the things I was writing were a little contentious. I was also concerned that people would think I was speaking for all children. I try to only write about what happens in our household and how I have perceived things over my time of watching my children grow. Obviously it is hard to know exactly what is going on in the kids heads but through watching the girls’ body language, expressions and actions and listening to their tones, I am learning to understand and communicate with them.
    I too think it is important for our children to see us play but I have just made changes to how and when I play. On Janet’s website, some people have posted that by playing with their children and showing those higher competence levels, their kids have aspired to try to do the same. I think one of the things we all know is that each child is unique and each will have their own personalities that will determine how they react in different circumstances. I think, as parents, it is up to us to try to tap into our children’s unique personalities and try to work out how best to approach them so that they will feel loved, encouraged and inspired to work and play with confidence.
    I have worked out that by me playing with Lucy in the same task she is doing, but obviously working at a more capable level, it absolutely discourages her from playing happily. I am not sure at what point she got the impression that seeing a better version of what she is doing means that her version is worthless but until she gains more self-confidence, I know I need to ensure that I am careful with how I play alongside her. Who knows, in 6 months time with a little more age and maturity, she may want me to involve myself more in her play and give her the challenge of trying to do what I do. In any case, at the moment I am relishing in the amazing joy and pride Lucy now shows in her play when I am simply present with her as she creates a ‘masterpiece’ that to her is worthy of accolade.
    Reading is a favourite pastime of Lucy’s and I never say no to reading her books. We love doing this together and me reading to her has never discouraged her from choosing a book from the bookshelf and reading to herself as other play activities have.
    Thanks again for the feedback, Kate. I always value what you say and I will ensure I am still able to play and work confidently alongside the children at every opportunity throughout the future.

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  5. Pingback: Techno babies - Page 2 - BabyandBump

    • Hi Techno babies, I am so pleased that putting away your child’s electronic toys has made such a difference for you. We had the same experience after putting all of ours away and I love that the children now have to think and create their own play rather than a toy doing it all for them. 🙂

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  9. Claire H says:

    Hi Kate, Thanks a lot for this.
    I have a question regarding the way you just step back watching and building confidence. The question is simple, although the answer is quite hard: How do you do it? where to start?
    I can’t leave the room without my almost 2.5 girl coming with me. I believe that after a long day at daycare she wants to be with me… when i’m with her, she doesn’t play on her own yet – so like you did before, i’m building my own towers, drawing my own butterflies… so she doesn’t want to do hers. i have realized that baking cakes works for us, she breaks eggs, taste a lot of chocolate and even holds the mixing eggs appliance (sorry i don’t know the name in English) which is a huge break for her, has she’s afraid of noise. that done, she help placing the mixture into a mold and enjoys telling her dad how cakes are made 🙂
    Where would you start?
    thank you very much

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    • Great question, Claire!! I was fortunate to discover RIE when my eldest was about 18 months old and was able to begin the ‘stepping back’ process much earlier than you which I think made it a little easier.
      It sounds like your daughter is very dependent on you which is a lovely testament to you as a nurturing and caring mum. It makes perfect sense that she would want to be with you when she has been in daycare all day. Do you speak to her about her daycare from this perspective? If my daughter was particularly clingy following a daycare day I would hold her and say ‘It seems like you really missed me today and would like to spend some time with me. I missed you too. It’s normal to feel like this. Let’s go and spend some time together’. etc. In RIE this time together is called ‘wants nothing’ time and it is when you devote an extended period of time to your child without distractions from phone calls, dinner or other chores. Now this must seem a little counter intuitive when you are wanting to encourage independent play but after two and a half years, it will take some time of adjustment for your daughter and she will need plenty of wants nothing time to afford her the confidence to then break away and play on her own. The idea is to saturate her with devotion so she feels ready to move away and play independently.
      The difficult part in these wants nothing times is to make sure you are simply present with your daughter, not instigating play, making suggestions or showing her a better way of doing things. Sit there with her and let her guide you. Participate when invited to do so as part of role-playing. Converse with your daughter when she engages you but largely let her play. The phrase “I love to watch you play” may come in useful if she begins to say, ‘you do it mum’ or ‘what can I do?’
      The other advice is to continue this saturation of connection time during caregiving tasks like feeding, bathing and nappy changes. Use these times to play, laugh and connect so she feels empowered to try playing on her own.
      I hope this helps a little. Please keep asking questions as you need to. I remember how difficult it was in the beginning to make such drastic changes in the household.
      Kate
      PS Would the egg mixer thing be an egg beater or maybe a whisk in English? 🙂

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      • Claire H says:

        Hi Kate,

        Thank you so much for helping me on this.
        I didn’t think of speaking to her about daycare like this, and will try to translate ‘It seems like you really missed me today and would like to spend some time with me. I missed you too. It’s normal to feel like this. Let’s go and spend some time together’ because i really liked it.
        I usually just ask how was daycare today, and she usually answers “fun”, sometimes she explains, sometimes she doesn’t
        Also, thank you for explaining the “wants nothing” time, because although i have “seen” this term before, I’ve never really understood it.

        Because i started trying implementing RIE into my life (yes, “my life” 1st because the changes have to come from me) i thought i would start with the fun parts 1st like playing – and I realized that this part is not an easy one now.

        I think I am now where you were in the beginning of the process, as I could completely relate to your blog and stories – which really gives me confidence.

        Really, Kate, thank you ♥

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