Self-confidence - the attitude and belief in one’s own potential and capabilities, is an important aspect of one’s being that affects multiple areas in their life. It is a factor that does not discriminate and influences the lives of both the young and old in areas such as learning, behaviour, and interpersonal relationships.
As children grow and go through the different stages of Erikson’s psychosocial development theory (i.e. autonomy vs shame and doubt, initiative vs guilt, and industry vs inferiority), their experiences and environment can either help them become confident and independent individuals, or anxious and doubtful ones. Hence, building confidence in a child is extremely important, especially so for our kids on the spectrum.
With a higher level of self-confidence, one will have a healthier mindset and approach to failure. They are more likely to cope better when things go wrong, be willing to try again, and may even look for ways they can better improve. Self-confident individuals are also less likely to feel afraid in novel or unexpected situations, which is known to be greatly disliked and is even a cause of distress among many individuals on the spectrum. On the other hand, those with low self-confidence may get upset easily when faced with challenges and setbacks, and be less open-minded to novelty. They may also be harsher on themselves, engage in negative self-talk, and over-generalise incompetence in one area to their entire being, regardless of their ability. Low levels of confidence can have damning effects on a child’s ability to learn new skills if they have the mindset that they ‘can't do anything right’ or that something is too hard and that they ‘will never be good at it’.
With all that has been mentioned above, it begs the question - how do I build confidence in my child with ASD? As a matter of fact, the tips that are about to be shared are not exclusive to children on the spectrum but also works with neurotypical children as well.
1. Focus on their strengths and interests
Take note of what they are good at, what they like to do, and what makes them happy. You can start building up their confidence by focusing on these areas and honing their skills. Getting better at what they are already good at and enjoy doing will increase their confidence, perceived competency, and boost their self-esteem.
2. Encouragement and praise
In praising their efforts and providing encouragement (eg. “It’s okay, that was a good attempt! Let’s try it again!”), your child will feel good about themselves and that their efforts are being acknowledged. As a result, this will motivate them to try again and make them feel valued and recognised. It also helps to describe exactly what they did in your praise so they know that they are on the right track (eg. “You did a great job putting all your toys back today!”)
During times of disappointment or failure, you can still strengthen a child’s confidence by letting them know that your love and support is undetermined by how well they perform on a task. (eg. It’s okay, mummy still loves you no matter what. How about we try it again together!)
3. Give them opportunities to take on responsibilities
You can start with something easy to build their confidence and let them feel proud of their accomplishment and contribution. For example, asking your child to help you place the kitchen utensils on the table when setting up for dinner. By doing so, it gives them a sense of mission and purpose, as well as letting them know that you believe in their abilities so much so that you entrusted them with a (solo) task.
4. Be a role model for your child
From a young age, parents are a child’s first and greatest role models in their lives. They would look to you, learn vicariously, mimic, and adopt your behaviours as their own. Thus, if you are someone who constantly puts yourself down, your child is likely to model after that behaviour. Hence, you should also make the conscious effort to build on your own confidence if it is an aspect of yourself that you are lacking in, so that your child may also learn to have the same amount of confidence in themselves.
Written by: Brenda
Centre for Autism Research. (2020). The importance of self-esteem. Center for Autism Research. https://www.carautismroadmap.org/the-importance-of-self-esteem/
Florida Autism Centre. (2018). Self esteem and autism: Developing healthy self esteem in your child. Florida Autism Center. https://www.flautism.com/4-tips-for-developing-healthy-self-esteem-in-your-child-with-autism/
Goleniowska, H. (2014). The importance of developing confidence and self-esteem in children with a learning disability. Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, 8(3), 188–191. https://doi.org/10.1108/amhid-09-2013-0059
Raising Children Network. (2020). Building confidence: Autistic children and teenagers. Raising Children Network. https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/behaviour/understanding-behaviour/building-confidence-asd