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Raising Confident Kids

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Professor Sam Cartwright-Hatton has discovered that kids who are confident think differently to kids who lack confidence. She has found seven beliefs that confident kids have in common about themselves and the world.

The Seven Confident thoughts are:

1. The world is a fairly safe place
2. I can cope with most things
3. Bad things don't usually happen to me
4. Bad things don't pop up out of the blue
5. I have some control over my life
6. Other people respect me
7. Other people are pretty nice really

Possessing these seven beliefs leads children to develop a deep inner knowing that they are capable of handling life's challenges which, in turn gives them the confidence to try new things, recover from setbacks and protects them from anxiety.

How can we foster these seven thoughts in our kids? First, it is important to acknowledge that parents rarely cause their child to be anxious or to lack confidence. There are many factors that play a role in a child's level of confidence and anxiety; factors such as genetics, the school environment, societal expectations and messages. That said, parents are able to make a huge difference to their kid's levels of anxiety and self-confidence. The answer is peaceful parenting, let's look at how.

1. The world is a fairly safe place

The number one rule of parenting is always to work on ourselves first because we cannot model what we don't have or believe. We are constantly radiating our thoughts and feelings to our kids whether we like it or not, often without even realising it. We do this through subtleties in our body-language and what we say. Our kids are programmed to learn about the world from us; we are their biggest teachers. Therefore, if we think the world is unsafe and dangerous, chances are they will pick up on this and will take on those beliefs themselves.

When we work on our own anxiety and belief system, we help our children hugely. If you are someone who has a tendency towards anxiety, you are not alone, many people do including me. Through a lot of work on my own self-awareness and anxiety, I am now able to notice when I am responding to my children from my own anxiety as opposed to their need in the situation. I can think to myself, 'Whose feelings are these that I am dealing with right now?' and 'Am I trying to meet my need to make this problem go away, or am I tuning into what my child needs and feels?'

If your child comes to you with a problem or is facing a challenge and you notice that it triggers anxiety in you, try to notice your feelings and put them aside while you focus on your child's feelings. Then, find some time for yourself later to process your feelings either by yourself, or by talking to a friend or partner. A good model for processing feelings is using the RAIN meditation by Tara Brach, which you can find information about here: The acronym RAIN follows four steps:
  • Recognize what is happening;

  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;

  • Investigate with interest and care;

  • Nurture with self-compassion.

It is also really beneficial to keep a daily journal, I love 'The Way of the Tortoise' and to have a mindfulness practice, such as checking in with yourself at set times of the day e.g., before you eat, brush your teeth, or pick up your kids and ask yourself 'Where is my attention? What are my thoughts? How am I feeling? and what do I need? I would also highly recommend cultivating self-compassion. Kristin Neff is an expert on self-compassion, and she has a great book called ‘Self-Compassion’. She also has lots of free meditations on her website If you find it hard to manage your anxiety on your own seek therapy if you can. When we work on ourselves, it always, always benefits our children.

2. I can cope with most things

If your child is struggling with something, for example to do their homework, complete a puzzle, or navigate a fallout with a friend. Instead of rushing in to solve the problem for them, take a deep breath to calm yourself and then see if you can support them to solve the problem themselves. Of course, you want to help them if they are asking for help but try not to take over, or tell them what to do, instead help them to come up with ideas and offer support rather than solutions if possible.

Foster autonomy. Is there something age appropriate that you could let your child take care of themself? Something they want to do, so it is not seen as a chore. For example, let them use a sharp knife to help you chop up the vegetables for dinner, order their own food in a restaurant, teach them to cross the road, let them buckle themselves into their car seat. If they make a mistake, keep calm and light about it and invite them to help you clean up. Never criticise them or call them names; this can erode their self-esteem and make them feel less capable and therefore, less willing to try new things.

Foster a growth mindset. Instead of "I can't do this!", teach your kids to think "I can't do this YET but if I practise and keep trying, I can learn how to do it.” There are many great books and videos that explain the value of making mistakes and having a growth mindset. This video is by Cosmic kids

Play with your kids, especially roughhousing games that get them laughing. Larry Cohen in his brilliant book 'Playful Parenting' recommends games such as play wrestling where you put up resistance but then let your child overpower you and 'Can you push me to the other side of the room, or can I push you?' for building self-confidence in kids and I have seen these games work wonders.

Sam Cartwright-Hatton highlights the importance of risky play for children because it enables children to develop accurate risk assessment skills and learn what their limits are. She argues that kids need the opportunity to explore, scrape their knees and get muddy. If you have a tendency to say, 'Get down now, you're giving me anxiety!' or "Be careful, be careful" whenever your child attempts to climb a tree, or a tall play structure, how would it feel to soothe your anxiety and trust that this play is good for them? Could you ask them if they need your help and let them know that you are there if they need you? Could you say, 'Do you feel safe?', or "What's your plan for getting down?'
Larry Cohen (as mentioned above) writes in his book 'The opposite of worry" that he remembers a time when he was terrified of his daughter falling from some play equipment and was repeatedly saying to her 'Be careful!' His friend said to him, "You know Larry, she will recover better from a broken arm than from being timid and unsure of herself".

3. Bad things don't usually happen to me

I hear so many parents say, 'I don't want to raise a brat!' and they are so worried about this that they come down hard on their kids and feel that they need to set them straight. However, when parents regularly shout at their children and/or punish them, use timeouts and consequences etc., kids can develop an overactive amygdala that is hyper-vigilant to signals of threat in their environment. They feel less safe and more anxious in general because they have received the message that emotions are an emergency, and they don't learn how to regulate their own emotions well because no one has modelled this to them. Conversely, kids who are raised with empathic limits from a parent who can regulate their own emotions have a less reactive amygdala and a more developed prefrontal cortex meaning that they are more resilient, can calm down more quickly after being upset, are less angry and are more responsible. These kids also have more self-regulation, self-control, and higher self-esteem.

If you have been using punishments and shouting to get your children to listen and cooperate don't worry, the brain is very plastic, and it is never too late to change how you parent and help your child to build a calmer brain that will benefit them for their whole lives. It gets harder the older your child becomes but it is always possible. The first step is always to have compassion and forgiveness for yourself and to remember that you have always been doing your best for your kids. Beating ourselves up never helps us to act better, what does help is to look at how we can give ourselves more support so we can be the parent we want to be next time.

4. Bad things don't usually Pop up out of the Blue

Always give your child prior warnings and prepare them adequately. If you know that your child hates going to the dentist for example, it can be tempting not to tell them about their appointment until you arrive outside the dentist. However, not allowing them time to process what is coming, could cause them to feel less safe and more anxious in general because they never know when something they don't like might be sprung upon them. So instead, prepare your child in advance of outings/events that you know they don't like and welcome all their feelings about it. If you can stay calm, compassionate, and empathise with their upset and then reassure them that although they won't like it, they can handle it, you might find that the actual event goes much more smoothly. Another great tool to use in advance is to role play the event with stuffed animals and try to get them laughing about it. Play and laughter are some of nature's ways of processing and working through feelings of stress and anxiety.

There are many bad things that can happen that are not within a parent's control and into every life a little rain must fall. It is important for us to always be responsive to our kids and support them to overcome difficulties when they need us. That doesn't mean we should make sure our kids never have to face challenges, or that their lives should be perfect and easy by removing any obstacle that gets in their way; in fact, that would be detrimental to their development of resilience and sense of self agency. But, if we just leave our kids to fail without giving them any support or help in discovering ways that they could succeed next time, (such as studying for their test, asking a teacher for help when they don't understand something etc.,) we are leaving them all alone in their struggles and instead of developing resilience, they could just conclude that they are failures.

5. I have some control over my life

How much autonomy does your child currently have in their life? Is there room to increase their level of autonomy?

Try to give your kids choices whenever possible e.g., let them choose their clothes for the day, what they have for breakfast and, 'Do you want to have your bath now, or in five minutes?'

Invite them to problem solve solutions with you, 'Our mornings have been stressful for both of us lately, how can we make things go more smoothly? Let's brainstorm together'.

You decide what food you cook and when and where you will all eat and then let your kids decide how much of their meal they eat. This allows them to learn to listen to their bodily cues of hunger and satiety, which will help them to develop a healthy relationship with food throughout their lives. This method is called 'The division of responsibility" and was developed by Ellyn Satter. You can find more information for all ages about this very effective approach to feeding kids here:

6. Other people respect me

When we commit to respecting our children, even when they are not being respectful to us, we not only teach them that they are deserving and worthy of respect, but we also model how to be respectful to others.

Respect your children's bodies, likes, dislikes, play and interests. It is also important to respect their feelings and needs and always meet them with empathy even if you don't agree. You don't have to always give them what they want (that wouldn't be good for them) but you can always show them understanding for how disappointing it is to not get what you want and allow them to have all their feelings about it e.g., anger, sadness, tears without taking it personally, or sending them away. kids who are sent to their rooms when they have big feelings have no choice but to stuff them down where they lay ready to drive bad behaviour, or anxiety and depression later.

Remind yourself that they are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time and when they say, 'I hate you!' They don't really hate you; they are an immature human who is inexperienced and unable to express themselves appropriately yet. They can't yet say to you, or to themselves, 'I am so disappointed about this, I really wish I could watch another show.' They say, "I hate you; you are the worst!' If you can stay calm and say something like, 'You really wish I would say yes to this, it seems so unfair to you. I wish I could say yes but it wouldn't be good for you if I let you have more screen time right now. I hear how annoyed you are, it's OK to feel angry with me.' You will be amazed at how much faster they calm down and move on. It is so much easier for all of us to move on and calm down when we feel heard and understood by someone else.

Later, when everyone is feeling calmer and you and your child are feeling connected, you could discuss what happened with them brainstorm ways that they could show their upset more appropriately next time. Remember though that this is not a one and done situation; it will take many repetitions and modelling for children to be able to react calmly and respectfully in the heat of the moment and not get swept into fight-flight mode, in fact many adults still can't do that. But if you can stick with this, you will be rewarded with a child who can manage their emotions better than a lot of grown adults.

7. Other people are pretty nice really

Be careful about how you talk about other people in front of your child and especially about 'stranger danger'. It can often feel necessary to warn our children about 'stranger danger', however sometimes we can end up causing our kids to feel that the world is a dangerous place, and their fear can become larger than the reality of the threat. Places where it is a good idea to be very overprotective indeed however are road safety, the media (limit exposure to the news) and online.
This article is helpful for keeping kids safe

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Mar 07, 2023

What about if a child is being bullied at school?


Mar 07, 2023

This is so interesting, thank you.

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