Normalize and allow space for mistakes.
Kids take cues from mom and dad. By letting a child take a few practice swings at something new before stepping in with a gentle correction, you are communicating your confidence in their ability to figure out. Intervening too frequently can send the message they need to be rescued and aren’t capable on their own. Down the line, this can contribute to perfectionism (e.g. anxiously trying to avoid criticism by never making mistakes), or apathy (e.g. a “why bother”, dependent, and/or defeatist attitude).
Failure also creates an opportunity for children to cultivate resilience- they learn they can make mistakes and still be okay. Remind them that “failure” is not a character trait but an important part of growth. Confidence isn’t believing you will never make a mistake, but the belief that when you do fail or things don’t go according to plan, you can and will get through it.
Teach them how to [assertively] ask for help.
Children often ask for what they need through a behavior- temper tantrums, withdrawal, etc. When you notice a behavior that may be communicating a need, this is a great opportunity to help your child explore and put into words what they are feeling and needing (this is different than validating poor behavior).
To do so assertively means to ask directly, respectfully, and unapologetically (what this looks like varies based on age/stage of development). Asking for help is a sign of wisdom and strength, not a weakness or inconvenience. You may choose to have overt conversations with your kiddos about this, and model it in your own home by making it safe to ask for help and encouraging respectful language.
Praise the effort, not just the achievement.
When possible, acknowledge the effort, determination, and perseverance it took to accomplish a task or goal. Placing excessive emphasis on the achievement itself can send a subtle message that a child’s worth, value, and identity come from what they produce, not who they are. Rooting identity in external sources can contribute to anxiety, people pleasing, and other challenges in an individual’s relationship with themselves and others.
Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.