Learning and Development

Boost children’s confidence by letting them try

  • Boost children’s confidence by letting them try

What annoys you about how adults speak to you? 

“When they don’t believe I can do it myself.” G

I worked with this little girl for a couple of years and loved her determined spirit. I’m sure you know similar children who are fiercely independent, which on a good day can help them achieve beyond expectations and on a bad day, can bubble over. I’ve always sympathised with these personalities. I can well remember the frustration of being made to hold my mother’s hand when I thought I was perfectly capable of walking alone. You probably have similar memories.

Gaining confidence

Despite these recollections, it’s difficult to fully remember just how lacking in agency a young child’s life can be. Every time they are able to complete a task successfully, unaided, it builds their confidence in their own ability to learn and it does so exponentially. We can be aware of the larger examples that happen in our settings, but there are smaller, less visible gains that are harder to identify and acknowledge. 

When a child listens to a story they have heard before, watches a favourite video, or joins in with a sing-song and demands that it be repeated over and over again, it’s not just that they love it; they are constantly making predictions about what will happen next. Then, if they have remembered correctly, those predictions come true and reassure the child that they are able to learn. It’s fascinating to note precisely when a child feels confident enough to ask to do something for themselves. How many times did they have to do it with help in the lead up to this request?

It can place us in a difficult position if a child is more convinced of their abilities than we are, especially if there is risk involved – we don’t want them to endanger themselves. We also don’t want the child to set themselves up for failure – however, failure is a great teacher. No one acquires faith in themselves and their own abilities without falling down a few times, and they’ll always have us to pick them up, brush them off and bolster them for another try.

Believe they can succeed

Children love to be given some responsibility, to hold a little power, if only for a short time and in an inconsequential circumstance. They are hard-wired to test themselves out, and delight in recognising themselves as the cause that makes the effect. Every time we believe they can succeed, they have a chance to prove it. Developmentally, children need opportunities to experiment with their own proficiency in the physical world.

Whether it’s something they have tried before, or they are launching themselves bravely into the unknown reaches of their abilities, I do try to give children the chance to do it themselves. If they triumph, marvellous, and if they don’t, it’s beneficial for them to practise asking for help – goodness knows many of us could get a little better at that.

And is there any greater joy than witnessing the moment a child accomplishes something they weren’t entirely sure they were capable of?

So, let’s take a hint from G and make an effort to believe them when they say they no longer need our help. It doesn’t make us redundant; it makes us successful teachers.

Learn more
As part of the How to Speak Child project, Nikky has been collecting interviews with children about how adults communicate with them. She’ll look at a selection of prominent themes over the course of the series, but to read more now, you can…

Nikky’s book Create, Perform, Teach! (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, £14.99) is out now.