Build your child’s confidence

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October 21, 2019
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November 11, 2019

By Dr. Melodie de Jager

Confidence in a child seems to be the most amazing magnetic force that draws friends, opportunities and success with absolute ease. A confident child is often a popular child; sometimes the teacher’s pet and most often the centre of attention when the family gets together. Even when on holiday it doesn’t take too long before a new friend is made. Things just seem to come so easily to him.

In stark contrast a child (or adult) who seems to lack this magical ingredient that draws friends, success and positive attention feels lonely, anxious or even fearful. They are constantly on edge but also hopeful that someone will ‘pick me!’ It is heart wrenching for a parent when you realise your child is part of the second group.

Is confidence simply for a fortunate few, or can confidence be nurtured?

Literature indicates that confidence is not inherent but the product of positive role models and concerted cultivation. Concerted cultivation means that a child’s sense of self is cultivated just like you would take care of a rare plant or bird. Such a child is constantly reminded of his parent’s approval – every little act is commented on in favourable terms, when he rolls over – everybody claps hands; when he finishes his food he is praised for being a clever boy; when he puts a block in a container mom and dad respond as though he has just discovered a cure for flu! Mom and dad’s positive remarks spur the child on to do more and reach even higher. Such a child finds it easy to try new things and dare to take a risk or two secure in the knowledge that he has backing. When things don’t go so well, it is a minor incident in comparison to a warehouse full of evidence that he is OK.

The strange thing is that moms and dads who nurture their child’s sense of self (and in so doing his confidence) also tend to be confident people.  In other words; not only do they cultivate confidence in the child, they also show what confidence looks like by being a ‘confidence role model’.

 How effective are you as a confidence role model’?

Confident Lacking Confidence
You do what you believe is right, even if others don’t agree. What you do depends on what other people might think or say.
You take risks and are not afraid of making mistakes. You rather stick to what is known; fear failure and avoid taking risks.
You admit your mistakes, learn from them and then laugh about them. You work extra hard at not making mistakes and when it happens, hope to fix the mistake before anyone notices.
You don’t need others to tell you that you did well. You subscribe to the ‘fake it till you make it’ policy and hope that nobody finds out.
You accept compliments graciously. You dismiss compliments offhandedly.

Confidence breeds confidence

Confident moms and dads instill confidence in their children from a very young age by applauding every new skill and every new stage with great enthusiasm. Children who lack confidence hear, “no!” and “don’t!” 18 times to every 1 “well done!”

Erik Erikson’s theory of development illustrates the effect of concerted cultivation from birth to young adulthood by comparing positive input to a lack of positive input and appropriate role models. His model is a handy guide for moms and dads to know how to cultivate confidence at each stage of a child’s development.

Confidence starts with trust during infancy when the baby acquires an “inner certainty” that his mum will care for him and that she loves him. In time he also learns that he can rely on himself when he starts saying: me do. When a child doesn’t learn trust in infancy, he automatically learns to distrust and defend. This breeds aggression rather than confidence.

Before the age of three, a child learns to become independent when he learns to walk and to talk. During this time he discovers his own power – the power of words and of actions. He discovers that he can make things happen and his mom and dad’s response to this is a make or break situation. If his parents ridicule him – if they laugh when he falls down, taunt him for wetting his bed, shout when he drops something- he loses his sense of being a competent, autonomous being and starts feeling ashamed.

Between the ages of 3 and 6 a child acquires motor skills, practices being an adult during fantasy games like playing house, being a fireman or a policeman. During this stage a child usually learns to control himself and his behaviour, in other words he learns to STOP.  If his parents are overly strict and if they discourage his explorations, he loses the will to try. Failure in this stage is experienced not as the loss of parental love so much as the loss of self esteem. Cultivating parents on the other hand encourage initiative and healthy risk taking, which is the third building block in the development of healthy confidence.

 During the next 6 or 7 years a child learns the skills and values of his culture – in school, on the sports field, and while hanging-out with friends. Children receive formal schooling during this stage and the need for self-discipline increases to experience success in the classroom, on the sports field or when with friends. If a child has learned to trust himself and his world in the earlier stages, he feels one with the world and his place in it. If he has not, his feelings of inadequacy and mediocrity may be confirmed.

At puberty, childhood draws to an end and the responsibilities of adulthood becomes a reality. The adolescent begins to question all that he has depended on through childhood including his parents. He compares his image of himself to the way others see him. He compares his home to that of others. He is in the process of working out his identity. It is not an easy stage – neither for the parents nor for the child. However, if the family glue has been strong in the earlier years, it will be flexible enough to create a silent vote of confidence that says: you can do it. The opposite is a controlling family that treats a child as brainless and incompetent, which breeds anger, resentment and rebellion rather than confidence.

Finally, the trusting and autonomous youth who has a firm sense of identity is able to; take risks, commit himself to relationships and maintain those commitments. He has honed the magical magnet that draws friends, opportunities and success, which in turns feeds his confidence to dare more, reach higher, give more and appreciate the richness of his life. If through time he did not manage to shake off distrust, shame, a constant sense of failure, inadequacy and mediocrity, he experiences isolation rather than connectedness or intimacy.

Trust and acceptance in childhood, transforms into confidence in adulthood. It is never too late to start putting the building blocks in place, but before you can foster confidence in another, it must be present in yourself.     

Recommended Mind Moves®

1. Mind Moves Massage

Child must stand upright and hold both arms 90 ° to the side of the body. Stand behind the child and firmly trace the outline of the body from head to toe. Hold the feet, planting them into the ground, for the count of 8 before repeating 3 times.

2. Confidence Booster

Cross the feet and arms in a hugging fashion. Rest the tongue against the palate in the sucking position, in order to activate the emotional brain that calms and boosts the immune system. Close the eyes to shut out visual distractions. Breathe slowly.

3. Rise and Shine

Fling the arms wide open while breathing deeply in and slowly, and then closing the arms over the chest in a hug, breathing out deeply and slowly. The child can hug himself or the parent may hug him simultaneously from behind.

4. Arm Workout

Clasp the hands together, palms turned outwards. Keep the body in the upright ‘string of beads’ position and extend the arms forward to lengthen the arm and shoulder muscles. Maintain the extended position for a count of 8. Repeat the process with the hands above the head. Drop the hands in front of the body, palms turned downwards, and repeat the process. Unclasp the hands and move them behind the back. Clasp and push the palms downwards, opening up the shoulders to lengthen and relax the muscles. Hold for the count of 8. Repeat process 3 times.

5. Leg workout

Sit on a chair and straighten both legs forward, while resting the heels of the feet on the floor. Raise both legs off the floor. Flex and point both feet and notice any tightness in the calf muscles. Rest the left leg on the floor and flex the right foot, hold it for a count of 8 in the flexed position. Relax the foot. Repeat the move at least 3 times. Rest the right leg on the floor and flex the left foot, hold it for a count of 8 in the flexed position. Relax the foot. Repeat the move at least 3 times. Raise both legs off the floor. Flex and point both feet and notice any difference in the tightness of the calf muscles.


De Jager, M. 2010. Mind Moves—moves that mend the mind. Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute.

De Jager, M. 2011. brain development, MILESTONES and learning. BabyGym & Mind Moves – brain boosters.  Johannesburg: Mind Moves Institute

Harder, A.F. 2009. The developmental stages of Erik Erikson. Available on: [accessed on 01/12/2011].


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