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8 Simple Things You Can Do To Raise A Socially Confident Kid

How to encourage your kid to try, try again
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We all want our children to be happy, curious, intelligent, kind, loving, courageous, honest and fair.

We also really, really want them to be confident in themselves.

A new survey conducted by OnePoll, with Barbie, asked 15,000 parents in 22 countries what key social skill they wanted their children to develop, and 91% emphatically stated it was empathy.

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person is a good skill to have, one which can help predict future emotional, academic and social success for children. Studies have found that kids with higher emotional intelligence tend to earn better grades and do better in achievement tests.

Low emotional awareness may be linked to higher instances of depression and anxiety, while students with high emotional intelligence tend to be lauded by teachers as cooperative. They’re also considered good leaders in the classroom.

There are lots of things parents can do at home to help children’s social development and confidence - and they’re pretty straightforward, too. Here are eight to try at home this weekend.

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Talk about your feelings with them

As adults, we’re not always comfortable talking about our feelings - but if we can’t do it, how do we expect our children to?

The quicker our children learn to identify what emotions they’re feeling, the easier they’ll find it is to discuss them. They’ll also start to feel more confident verbalising their feelings: the good, the bad and the awkward.

Sharing how you would feel in a comparable situation to one your child finds themselves in (after an argument with a friend, or feeling anxious about not knowing all of the answers in a quiz, for example), will help your child feel more comfortable and at ease discussing their own emotions. Ask them questions, too, using a variety of feeling words, to help expand their vocabulary on the subject.

Empathy expert and educational psychologist, Dr. Michele Borba, is a big fan of talking feelings with the kids, and increasing your child’s range of terminology relating to emotions with feeling flashcards. Challenge yourself by acting out the word you’ve chosen without any sounds, just facial and body movements, she advises in her latest book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World.

Something to be wary of: we tend to express more feeling words with daughters rather than sons, so it’s especially important to ensure you’re discussing emotions with boys, too.

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Encourage independent play

Parents don’t always need to be hovering over their kids in play situations (we see you, helicopter!), or even directing them every time they pick up a toy.

Kids can learn important lessons about self-regulation from trying - and failing - to do something on their own, before eventually enjoying the satisfaction of achievement (made all the sweeter because they’ve accomplished something by themselves).

Also, listen in to your child’s imaginative play sessions with dolls and soft toys: this dramatic style of play allows kids to take on the role of different characters and personas, which will help them learn to empathise with the experiences and perspectives of others.

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Animals = empathy

Kids who are exposed to animals learn kindness and care skills, as well as the responsibility of how to keep an animal safe, protected and loved.

No wonder, then, that studies regularly show that kids who interact with animals have higher confidence and self-esteem, and lower anxiety levels, than those who don’t.

Children with pets also have enhanced social skills and tend to be less lonely.

If you don’t have a pet at home, not a problem: from checking out the pooches in the local park to getting to know animals at the zoo or city farm, there are plenty of ways to add animal love to your child’s life.

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Let them play with dolls

We often dismiss children playing with their dolls as just play, but it’s so much more than that: they care for their dolls, dressing them, bathing them, soothing them. They act out real life events through their dolls, like being in school or at the doctor’s office. Kids also confide in dolls, telling them their interests and even their worries.

Free play with dolls can be hugely beneficial to kids - and it boosts empathy, too, from reenacting caring scenarios with their dolls to helping children practice acts of kindness that they start to internalise.

Dr. Borba encourages parents to prompt their children as they play, saying things like: “Daisy can’t find her guitar. How can Barbie help?” or “Ned looks lonely and left out. What would you want someone to say if you were lonely? What can Ted do?”

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Let them see other perspectives and experiences

As important as it is for kids to see themselves reflected in books and toys, it will also help their social skills if they’re exposed to characters from different backgrounds and environments.

Buy them books with protagonists of a different gender, race, cultural background, sexual orientation and age, and give them dolls and toys that feature differently abled bodies or a different skin colour to their own.

These books and toys will help them to get inside the heads of those living totally different lives to theirs. Take it to the next level and engage your child in conversation about the differences and similarities between themselves and these toys.

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Praise them for the effort, not the outcome

We live in a results-orientated society so it’s tempting to get excited when our kids succeed, coming first in the spelling bee, winning the running race, being chosen for the singing solo.

However, instilling confidence in a child isn’t about making them happy when they achieve something they’re excited about - rather, it’s about making them feel good about themselves even when they don’t.

Give your child positive affirmations when they’re kind, when they share with a sibling, when they try hard for something… that will help give them a sense of self worth that exists whether or not they ultimately win the prize.

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Don’t let them get their way all the time

In the moment - especially the moment of a full-blown, raging tantrum - giving in to your child and letting them get what they want might feel like the easiest solution. In the long run, they will struggle as a result, and it will undermine their confidence because the real world doesn’t work that way.

In order to be truly empathetic, kids need to feel frustrated and disappointed sometimes - and they also need to understand that other people have feelings that need to be respected.

The earlier children can learn these diplomacy and conflict resolution skills, the better placed they are for future confidence.

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Listen to them when they speak to you

Listening isn’t always the easiest skill to learn as a parent, especially when we’re trying to finish up a report, help a child with homework and get dinner ready, all while our child is talking animatedly about their school day.

So, put down the devices, look your child in the eye - and really engage with what they’re saying. It helps to model empathy for your child and will also improve your little one’s self-esteem. Plus, you could learn a thing or two from that amazing little person next to you.