Start ‘Em Young: Building Self-Confidence in Your Toddler
It’s never too early to begin building your toddler’s self-esteem. In fact, studies show that children establish self-esteem by the age of 5 and your home is the natural starting point for developing their belief in themselves.
How you cultivate that confidence at home even has long-lasting effects, with the quality of the family environment in early childhood being a reliable predictor of a person’s self-esteem as they grow older.
Having low self-esteem at a very young age severely limits children in multiple ways. They avoid socialising in fear of not being accepted. They don’t try to learn new things, thinking they will only fail. If they do try at all, they may give up easily if it doesn’t go their way. They accept criticism and failure as evidence that there is something wrong with them. They put themselves down constantly.
This attitude becomes a debilitating feedback loop of negativity if left unaddressed or reinforced. Here are ways for you to build self-confidence in your toddler.
1. Assist Their Learning
Toddlers feel good about themselves when they learn new things. Whether it’s knowing how to tie their own shoes or read a picture book, kids take great pleasure in the process of learning and mastery. As the parent, show them how to do these things and provide assistance. Then give them the chance to do it on their own.
Your active participation in their early learning is critical. Interactivity does more to help a toddler learn than passive education. Instead of letting your toddler just watch an educational video on a tablet, be right there with them to help them understand a concept or practice a skill.
Resist the urge to just do the things for your toddler all the time. It can be tempting to take control of everything to avoid any frustrations, but these are opportunities for them to grow competent and confident.
2. Encourage Early and Often
Support your toddler’s interests as early and as much as possible. Your encouragement gives them the confidence to try out new things and the courage to take on greater challenges. Showing joy and excitement regularly for their willingness to explore and overcome obstacles creates a positive mindset and allows them to be proud of their accomplishments.
Your toddler’s attitude will also be strengthened in the face of failure. By encouraging them often, they can develop their own way of self-encouragement to strive through difficult situations. Instead of reacting in an overly negative way and harshly criticising themselves when they make mistakes, they will be more likely to try again and make improvements, believing it’s possible to eventually succeed with your support.
3. Recognise Their Feelings
When your toddler inevitably gets frustrated or upset, you have to acknowledge their hurt feelings. Being able to empathise with their pain lets them know you truly care, which may be obvious to adults but is not always the case with children.
You might be tempted to simply "fix the problem” without expressing compassion. Compassion is essential to show that you understand what they are going through.
This is also an opportunity to teach them how to communicate their feelings clearly. Tell them to say what they mean with phrases like "I’m upset because…” or "I feel sad when…”
4. Be a Model of Positivity
It’s not just with the frustrations and failures that your child goes through where they learn how to cope properly. They see how you react to your own hardships as a parent/guardian and copy what you do. When you focus too much on your mistakes and beat yourself up all the time, your kids will notice and follow your footsteps.
So when you find yourself constantly saying out loud how incompetent or stupid you are in front of your children when you fail, you need to work on fixing your own behaviour and attitude. This does not mean repressing or ignoring your own feelings. It’s good that your kids understand that it’s okay to feel frustrated and that you also experience it. However, you need to be able to express it with positivity in mind, difficult as it may be, especially in the heat of the moment.
5. Praise Properly
It is important that you praise your toddler. However, there are right and wrong ways of doing it.
Show appreciation for the effort they put into an activity instead of results. Providing specific positive feedback about what they directly had a hand in doing, such as practising a lot or improving from their previous attempts, lets them know the value of hard work and learning from mistakes.
Children can take these lessons and apply them to life in general rather than being limited to doing well in one thing. This also avoids the problem of them believing that you only express satisfaction when they produce results.
Don’t shower children with compliments about qualities they have no control over. Endlessly praising your toddler for how smart or pretty they are can warp their sense of self-worth, tying it to just those attributes.
Don’t give them unearned praise either. If you say they did a great job at a game they didn’t do so well, it won’t feel true to them. Alternatively, tell them that it’s okay to not be at your best at all times, and that you believe they will do better next time.
6. Don’t Set Them Up For Failure
There is the conventional wisdom of letting children "learn the hard way,” allowing them to do things that they are guaranteed to fail at with the idea that the painful experience ensures they don’t do it again.
This does not register so clearly to children at an early age. If they see that you are right there and let them fail when you could have done something to help them, they read the situation as you not caring enough about them.
It can be difficult deciding when to step in or when to stand by. Knowing your child’s limits should help you make that decision. If you do choose to help, don’t just do everything for them. They might learn the wrong lesson that you can fix all their problems and that they are not capable enough.
7. Help Them Help Others
Toddlers may not naturally go out of their way to understand others’ feelings, but they do have the capacity for empathy. Develop their ability to empathise by teaching them to verbalise how they feel when something good or bad is done to them, and asking them how others would feel about their actions.
<br>When they realise that when they do something that benefits others, such as helping a sibling with a chore at home or sharing toys with another toddler at the local nursery, they feel empowered. Affirm these small acts of kindness every time. Positive reinforcement of such behaviour builds their self-confidence, and in turn, an eagerness to do good things for other people.
Building your child's self-esteem starts at a young age. However, it's not just your home that moulds their character; they also learn this from the nurseries they spend their days in. Our Nursery in Weston Super Mare is an Ofsted registered nursery and is a member of the National Day Nursery Association. If you’d like to come in to talk to our lovely staff and find out how we help build self-confidence in children, give us a call today on 01934 629727 or drop us an email via our contact form.