Friday - - Advice -

Q I have two daugh­ters. While the older one is more out­go­ing, con­fi­dent and is cho­sen for lead­er­ship roles in her class, the younger is shy and ret­i­cent, and that stops her from get­ting no­ticed or ap­pre­ci­ated. There are times when she is com­pared to her sis­ter, which makes the sit­u­a­tion worse. How can I build my younger daugh­ter’s con­fi­dence, with­out mak­ing her feel less in any way?

A It can come as quite a shock to par­ents when their chil­dren are very dif­fer­ent in terms of per­son­al­ity and tem­per­a­ment. And an elder child of­ten nat­u­rally seems more con­fi­dent just be­cause they have the edge age-wise. So don’t worry, there is plenty of time for your youngest to de­velop her own sense of who she is. You say that you worry she is not ‘no­ticed or ap­pre­ci­ated’, but I’m sure that within the fam­ily this is not the case, and that’s where the fer­tile ground for grow­ing con­fi­dence ex­ists.

Some chil­dren run head­long into the world grasp­ing it with both hands, while oth­ers are more nat­u­rally cau­tious and feel their way about slowly. The key is not to la­bel either, but al­low them to ex­plore at their own pace. La­belling a child as shy early on can cre­ate a self­ful­fill­ing prophecy, so if this keeps hap­pen­ing and teach­ers and other adults re­fer to her shy­ness, then it’s wise to gen­tly re­fute this per­cep­tion by sug­gest­ing that your daugh­ter likes to lis­ten and think through things be­fore shar­ing her ideas.

We must re­mem­ber there is noth­ing wrong with shy­ness in a child. In fact, it’s a per­fectly nor­mal char­ac­ter­is­tic for many young chil­dren, but there is no harm in cre­at­ing the cir­cum­stances for her to grow in con­fi­dence, and there are a num­ber of prac­ti­cal strate­gies to give her a help­ing hand.

Let­ting her un­der­stand that it’s OK to feel ner­vous in some sit­u­a­tions is a good start­ing point. You can do this by be­ing de­scrip­tive when it comes to notic­ing those feel­ings. Use words like ‘It’s un­der­stand­able you feel a bit ner­vous…’ Chat­ting to her teacher about this might also help. You could have achiev­able tar­gets, which have re­wards at­tached, such as rais­ing a hand and an­swer­ing a ques­tion, and this could be done in con­junc­tion with her teacher. The more aware other adults are that she needs a bit of ex­tra en­cour­age­ment, the more likely they are to take the time to fos­ter this in her. How­ever, it’s cru­cial that you ask them not to make a big thing of it or press her too hard, as this, of course, could be counter-pro­duc­tive.

Some­times sib­lings can feel over­shad­owed by their older brother or sis­ter. This is not any­one’s fault, but maybe en­gi­neer­ing some one-on-one time with your youngest might af­ford you the op­por­tu­nity to de­velop some of her so­cial skills through play. Games and books that help her ex­plore so­cial sit­u­a­tions and talk about them with you are use­ful. You could grad­u­ally in­tro­duce a friend into the equa­tion too, so that she can prac­tise be­ing con­fi­dent with­out the eyes of oth­ers upon her.

Be wary of over­com­pen­sat­ing by step­ping in too early when she is in so­cial sit­u­a­tions that might feel a lit­tle stilted. If she is be­ing quiet and re­served, al­low her to be so and work on th­ese things at home rather than in the pub­lic eye, which might only make her feel more self-con­scious. With your sup­port and guid­ance she’ll come out of her shell.

RUS­SELL HEM­MINGS is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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