“As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.” – Oprah Winfrey
One of my close friends recently asked me what I hope my children will take with them into adulthood, and it sort of stumped me. I think about things like this all the time, but the hard part was consolidating it into an elevator pitch. After a big pause when I thought about experimentation, creativity, and exploration I said, “I want my children to be confident.Confident in their ideas, confident in who they are, and confident that they can make things happen.”
Having confident children is a big idea to unpack, and getting there is full of multiple moments and lots of moving parts. As a parent, you don’t always know if you’re on the right path, but there are some touchstones that can help guide the way. Since my oldest child is only 3, I can only see so far into her future, but we seem to be headed in a good direction.
6 Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence
Tool #1: Experimentation
We create opportunities to try new things. I set up science experiments like this one with dry ice, I encourage her to follow her curiosities (what will happen if I drop rainbow sprinkles in my milk?), and yesterday she wanted to mix sugar into her water to see what it tasted like. If it’s safe, why not?
Tool #2: Independence
We set up multiple areas of our home where our kids have free access to materials that build creativity. This is our self-serve mail center where she can find envelopes and stamps to mail cards on a whim. We also have a self-serve art cabinet and unlocked kitchen drawers where she has access to kid-friendly knives and cooking tools. The last thing I want to imagine is sending my child off into the world, but I know it’s something that I need to prepare her for.
When I talk with my daughter I encourage her to consider all sorts of alternate realities. I’ll ask questions such as, “What do you suppose would happen if…?” or “If we could hop on an airplane this afternoon, where would you like to go?” When she draws I never make assumptions about what I see on her paper. What may look like a boat to me may be a kite to her. When I’m not sure, it’s best to comment on what I do know (I see you used red and blue crayons) or ask open-ended questions (can you tell me about your picture?).t
Understanding materials and their properties takes time. This one is about digging deep and spending enough time at something that it becomes second nature. My one year old spends about 15 minutes at this chalkboard each week. 15 minutes isn’t a lot of time, but it becomes a long time when it happens week after week. I rotate the materials that I offer her, and give her time to explore them. One day it might be small chalk, another day it’s sidewalk chalk, and another day it’s water and long paintbrushes. In the long run she begins to understand how a chalkboard is different from a piece of paper or a white wall.
Testing things out in various contexts. This one is harder for me to pinpoint, but it centers around the novel combination of materials and ideas. The blue and pink tool that you see in the photo is a stuffed animal maker, but my daughter used it to grind coffee in her mud kitchen. In another example, my friend’s one year old put a bucket on his head and pretended he was football player. Children do this naturally and it’s important to support and encourage this kind of out-of-the-box thinking.
Curiosity leads to discovery, and discovery builds confidence. With my daughter watching carefully, I filled about 50 water balloons on this hot day. At some point she declared that she wanted to know how to fill balloons too. While it was tricky to secure the balloon to the hose, she was motivated to figure it out and inevitably found a way to fill them. Discovery! Look and listen for moments of curiosity that can be turned into opportunities for learning and discovery.
Interested in more? Read about 3 more tools that build a child’s confidence.
What tools do you think are important for building a child’s confidence?