Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to building confidence in children or when it comes to cultivating self-confidence in a child with Autism, should a parent tackle the task differently?
If confidence is derived from our sense of self, as most experts claim, then ALL children come into this world from the same starting point. Regardless of ability or disability, a child’s sense of self is a blank slate ready to be written on at the moment of birth. As a child begins to relate to their environment this empty document begins to take shape.
The definition of confidence is a belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities – a feeling of self-assurance and the state of being certain. When a child interacts with their world, the experiences they have and the messages they receive from those who care for them sets the foundation for their self-esteem and how self-assured they will become. If their relationship with their environment is one that supports a positive belief in oneself and one’s abilities their confidence level is sure to be strong.
Healthy confidence, not arrogance, ensures a productive future. Kids with self-confidence know their limits, trust their abilities, are able to handle tough situations and push the envelope when it comes to new challenges – all great ingredients for living a satisfying life. When you feel good about yourself almost everything else seems to fall into place. When you are happy with who you are, you have the mindset, energy and power to make almost anything happen.
Confidence helps a child try something they’ve never done before. Self-assurance helps a child face the monsters under the bed or attempt to make a friend even when they can’t communicate effectively. As a child on the Autism spectrum, it takes confidence and courage to go to school everyday where one’s senses may be overwhelmed or bullies may be waiting.
For a young child with Autism, confidence can be a difficult trait to acquire and maintain when the people close to you are transmitting subtle messages that you need to be “fixed”. When the number of trips to the doctors and therapists outweighs those of your siblings, and the people around you continually correct your behavior, it is easy to make the assumption, “I’m not right”. Add to that the sense of awkwardness you have in social situations and you eventually arrive at the conclusion that you just don’t fit in.
How does a parent help a child develop a confident sense of self in their child on the Autism spectrum? All children, regardless of ability, can develop confidence with the help of the trusted adults in their life.
7 Strategies for Cultivating Confidence in Children
#1: Encourage independence. Don’t always rush to solve your child’s problems or rescue them. If your child struggles with a task, provide gentle encouragement and give specific praise each time they make an effort to try. “You climbed the ladder by looking at where to put your feet. That’s the safest way to do it!” This gives them the detailed information they need to replicate the behavior for continued success.
#2: Manipulate the environment. Identify your child’s learning style and create a study space accordingly. Take notice of your child’s sensory sensitivities and make their environment as sensory friendly as possible. When you minimize distractions and reduce circumstances that can cause anxiety you create more opportunity for your child to try new things and experience a sense of accomplishment.
#3: Give your child roles they can be confident in. Know your child’s abilities and limitations. Think of situations you can put them in that challenge them just enough to stretch their comfort zone but still not too much to reduce their chance of mastering the task. Whether they achieve the task or not, explicitly praise them for the effort they expended and point out how it got them closer to their ultimate goal.
#4: Address anxieties. Always be on the lookout for signs of anxiety in your child and seize them as an opportunity to build confidence. It is important to give your child language and other ways to express their fears and anxieties, such as speaking, signing, drawing, writing or acting them out depending on their abilities. Giving your child confirmation that feelings are neither right nor wrong, they simply exist to give us useful information, will prevent negative feelings from becoming obstacles.
#5: Practice. Whenever time allows, helping your child prepare for new situations will boost their confidence for the real event. New experiences are often difficult for many children on the Autism spectrum to approach because of their reliance on routine. It is very common to fear the unknown, therefore the more information, opportunities and practice we can present to a child the better their chances will be for success.
#6: Make lesson plans. Remember, you are your child’s primary teacher and educating your children early on is essential. Actively plan ways to help your children understand what confidence is. Appeal to the senses and various learning styles by discussing what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Give examples and read books about people with confidence.
#7: Role model well. How your child sees you cope with disappointment, setbacks and failure will impact their sense of self-confidence. Help them develop their confidence by mindfully living your life with the knowledge that they are watching your every move and taking it all in.
Always remember that any parent can build confidence in their child and as long as they pay close attention to the connection their child has with their environment it really doesn’t matter if they have special needs or not.
Parents of children with autism spectrum: are you finding yourself lost in a sea of confusion or feeling socially isolated? Explore this complimentary eCourse, “Parenting a Child with Autism: 3 Secrets to Thrive”.