Herald Journal Columns
April 11, 2005, Herald Journal

Building social confidence in children


We all want our children to have friends, socialize, and get along with others. It’s probably as important as anything else that we want and aspire for our children.

Success in school, getting along in a family and with peers all depend on self-confidence, and without it, children’s talents may not be developed, as they may be afraid to take risks or be creative.

Research shows that a positive self-concept is more important to academic success than a high IQ score, Jan Gordon said in the article, Building Children’s Self-esteem.

Self-esteem is also related to children’s feelings of belonging to a group and being able to adequately function in their group. Successfully adjusting to these groups helps to strengthen feelings of belonging to them, Lillian Katz said on the website, www.kidsource.com

In his book, “Family First,” Dr. Phil said one of the greatest mistakes children make is to compare their private reality with the “reality” others exhibit, and as a result, they may come away feeling socially inferior. When children learn how to get along socially, particularly with other children, their self-confidence is increased, and they learn about values, such as supportiveness, loyalty, compassion, and empathy.

As children grow, they become increasingly sensitive to the evaluation of peers, and we, as parents and caregivers, can help children learn to build healthy relationships with peers. Here are some ways to do this:

• Teach children about socially acceptable values and actions, such as being patient while other kids receive attention, taking turns, and sharing toys, Dr. Phil suggests.

• Help children develop plans for social situations. Discuss and role-play what to do in a new situation, such as how to get involved in a conversation or a game.

• Using imagery and mental rehearsal in social situations and challenges, such as coping with an unfair event against your child or dealing with an authority figure, can be very helpful, and we may have to help our children develop these skills, Dr. Phil further recommends.

• Journalist Yanick Rice Lamb notes in the article, Proud to be Me, Parent magazine, April, 2005, that learning to respond to teasing is part of learning how to socialize and make friends, but it can still hurt.

To help build up social confidence, clinical psychologist Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D recommends in the article, to have “teasing practice” with our children. He further states to tell our children that it is “teasing practice,” and say something silly like, “You have blue hair!”

To a four- or five-year-old, that’s funny, and he’ll have an easier time learning how to say, “No, I don’t!” without feeling intimidated or ashamed.

• Lamb also said that even though we want our children to celebrate what makes them unique, there will be many times when they’ll just want to be like other kids – wearing name brand jeans, etc. And sometimes, this is okay, but she warns to be careful of this as well, because there are messages in society, and especially in the media, that emphasize a certain definition of beauty. We just need to have talks openly with our children about this and their own beauty – celebrities in photos don’t always look like that.

• It’s important to be clear with children about our own values and to keep communication open about experiences outside of our homes.

• Get children involved in age-appropriate team sports or other group activities, so they can share interests and learn how to work in a team atmosphere.

• Allow your children to have other children over, so they can learn positive social interactions and manners under your supervision, and encourage play opportunities, such as at a park, to help children develop social confidence, leadership, and cooperation skills, Dr. Phil said.

• We should role model what healthy relationships look like. This can be one of the most powerful tools.

A good book

“Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon,” by Patty Lovell, L.D. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2001, is a wonderful children’s book about self-esteem and social confidence.

Short Molly Lou Melon stands “tall” to the class bully and teaches him that a person’s differences and unique characteristics are things to celebrate and are what make her special.

An art activity

On an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, beloved Mister Rogers showed viewers several different kinds of flowers. He explained that even though they are all flowers, they all look different.

The activity “tissue paper pictures” can help children recognize likenesses and differences and understand and accept individual differences. Using tissue paper in several colors, a tray or box, liquid starch or diluted glue (half glue and half water), cotton swabs or small brushes, and background paper, children can tear the tissue paper into small pieces and put them into the box. Using the cotton or brushes, they can paint the paper with liquid starch or diluted glue, and then arrange the torn tissue paper pieces on the sticky paper.

Let them add more starch or glue as needed and continue arranging the pieces. Every picture is different and unique and beautiful!

This activity is from “Mister Rogers’ Plan & Play Book,” Family Communications, Third Edition, 1991.

A cooperation game

Here’s a fun game that promotes cooperation, “Animal Chase.”

Have children form a circle, fairly close together, sitting or standing, facing each other. Using beanbags, small balls, or different stuffed animals, etc., the leader presents an object to the children to be given an animal’s name. The “animal” is then passed around the circle and back to the leader, who starts it around again, this time sending another “animal” out to chase him.

The game is made progressively harder by increasing the number of objects sent around the circle, by varying them as to shape and size, and by changing directions.

This game idea is from the book, “Indoor Action Games for Elementary Children,” Parker Publishing Company, 1989.

Have a wonderful week and enjoy spring and everything it has to offer – our children will!