How to raise a confident child

Building confidence through conversation.
Building confidence through conversation. Photo: Getty

As a child, I was extremely shy; painfully shy. It was difficult for me to be around others and being a great conversationalist was never on my 'strive to achieve' list.

I lived in a house where the belief was 'children should be seen, not heard' and this enabled my low self-esteem, awkwardness and inability to speak.

I barely spoke at all, not even to my own family. Even when I did speak, I was often yelled at to speak louder by my mother, teachers and even people I didn't even know.

Meeting new people was a nightmare. Just saying hello to someone had me red-faced and hunched over. I had no idea how to interact with people. I was too afraid of them; afraid they would reject me.

Psychologist and author of 'Raising Confident Happy Children', Anthony Gunn says rejection from others is many adults' number one fear and children are no different. Research has shown children as young as two affected by this fear.

Gunn says it's important for parents to realise that this is a natural, inbred fear that dates back to prehistoric times and there is nothing wrong with their child.

“There is a common misconception that children shouldn't be nervous in social situations,” he says.

Though it's quite normal to be afraid of social rejection, Gunn suggests learning to manage it if we want to lead positive, satisfying lives. A good way to ease your child's social fears is to teach them to become a great conversation starter.

I know, I know. If your child is shy and afraid to talk to people, how on earth can they be good at starting conversations?

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Like anything, there are ways of learning how to do this and with practise, your child will become confident in social situations.

Real estate agent, Tegan DeClark has no problems approaching or talking to people so she was surprised when her 4-year-old daughter was afraid to speak to people.

“It just hasn't come naturally to her. I encourage her to speak to others, especially at shops. If she wants to know how much something is, I tell her to ask the clerk. I do not intervene because I want her to have the confidence to make her way through this world, a world full of people that she will have to speak to in many different life situations,” she says.

DeClark says her daughter will often resist and try to get her to do the talking for her but she knows that if she gives in, it just enables her daughter's shyness.

“She gets upset sometimes but I stand my ground and she eventually goes and asks for herself. Afterwards, she's always chuffed with herself and the next time is easier.”

Gunn says using shopping is a great way to gently encourage your child into safe social interactions. Kids love rewards, so a trip to the shop for a lolly is bound to work.

“Children are pretty simplistic. Offer them a reward and they'll do most things. At pre-school age, be beside them in the shop but have them do all the asking and paying. As they get older, move further away – you may be standing at the door, observing their interactions and when they are a little older, be outside the shop waiting for them,” Gunn explains.

There are two simple ways that parents can help their child make the transition from shy to confident speaker: make it fun and stop speaking for them.

“Many parents feel the need to step in and answer questions for their child. All this does is reaffirm that they are inept in social situations. If you feel the urge to step in, count to 10 before talking. Give the child the chance to speak for themselves,” says Gunn.

Whether your child is shy or not, building their language skills will have a positive effect on their social interactions.

Speech Pathologist, Lauren Elyan  says a great way to do this is by using books and story telling as props for engaging in conversations with your child.

“I encourage parents to use book reading as a point of conversation. Get kids to re-tell the story to you and use their imagination as to what's happening.

“Parents then can use their interpretation of the story to ask more questions and encourage the child to tell them more, which will build on their language,” she says.

Armed with words and new found confidence, Gunn recommends having a topic list for your child to use as conversation starters (this is great for adults too!). He says choose topics that children love to talk about like: complaining about school, movies, gaming or the latest toy craze.

“Encourage your child to subtlety listen to others' conversations to find out what they're talking about. This will help them to broaden their awareness. The key attribute of a good conversationist is their interest of others' wants. Teach your child to place the focus on the person they are speaking  to and away from themselves,” he says.

When I was that painfully shy, quiet kid I never considered that I would have to interact with people every day. Today, I am competent in most social situations though I still find it hard to initiate conversations.

It would've been nice to have had somebody cheering me on to be a conversationalist. At least now I can be that somebody for my own child. 

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