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Ask the expert: my younger kid lacks confidence

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

Russell Hemmings.
18 Oct 2015 | 11:54 am

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?

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 self-fulfilling 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.

Russell Hemmings

Life coach, and clinical and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist. More info: www.russellhemmings.co.uk / 04 4273627 / 055 2867275.