Past Questions

Lacking Self-Confidence

I am the mother of two children, an 8 year old son and a 5 year old daughter. My husband works out of town for 28 days and is home for 7 days so you could call me a part-time single parent. I also work 5 days week.
My children are both lacking in the self-confidence department and I would be grateful for any information that could help them become more confident. For instance; if I ask a question such as would you like a red or yellow popsicle? - I get an "I'm not sure" or "what do you think", or if I ask did you like the movie? - "Kinda or sort of yes and sort of no", never a solid answer. If they are asked to choose an item it takes them forever to decide, even if it's only 2 items.
My daughter will not speak to most people, she just hangs her head and shrugs her shoulders, even when we run into class mates at the store. Most people we know just say "oh that's ok she's just shy", well then she plays it up even more.
What can I do?

Dear Monica,
My name is Debi Sementelli and I am one of the Certified Positive Discipline Associates who answers the e-mails we receive on the website.
First I want to commend you on your "part-time single parenthood". It sounds more like full time to me! It's obvious that despite your full time employment and single parent role for 28 days at a time, you care very much about helping your children to be the best that they can be. Good for you!
My hope is that by providing you with a little information about birth order along with a simple tool you will feel more confident that you are doing just fine.
With that said, I want to introduce the concept of birth order to you. Immediately upon reading your e-mail, the birth order factor popped into my head. (There is a whole chapter on birth order in Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen.)
Because you have a boy and a girl, you actually have two first born children. ( as they are the first born of that sex) I have a first born male and a second born male who are as opposite as can be. One of the tendencies of first borns is to be compliant and follow the rules. They are usually very easy going kids by nature. My first born ,even to this day at the age of 14, when asked for a preference will usually say something like, " It doesn't matter to me, whatever is easiest."
He is intelligent, does well in school, is extremely easy going and does whatever he's asked to do. Because he is so different from me and his brother (I'm a second born as well! over the years I have been sometimes baffled by what I see as indecisiveness and yet he assures me that it just doesn't matter to him one way or another. Eventually I came to understand and believe that it is my perception that was inaccurate. What might be termed lack of self-confidence is actually just his natural temperament. I'm guessing that this may apply with both of your first born children as well.
Now, on the other side, it is certainly a good idea to try to help them to express themselves more easily and with more confidence. Some first borns (not all) tend to have a smaller "comfort zone" than other children. If something makes them feel uncomfortable, they will try to avoid it, even if they appear in our eyes to miss out on something. (Other first borns will do whatever it takes to remain "first." While you don't want to imply that being reserved or shy is a "bad thing", you may want to do small things to help them slowly expand their comfort borders.

Here's a few thoughts:
1. When asking their opinion be specific. Instead of "Did you like the movie?" ask, " Which part of the movie made you laugh?...sad?..scared?... or "What did the character in the movie say that made you laugh the most?"
2. When giving a choice, try putting a time limit on it..." You can pick from this toy or that toy as a birthday present for you friend, but you need to tell me which one by the time a minute is up. Then if they don't pick one just pick it yourself and don't worry about it, because they probably really just don't have a preference!

3. Another possibility is to say, "Take your time thinking about it and let me know when you have decided." This allows time for children who need more time to process information. It can also be effective to let them know that some decisions won't be made until they make them and that you have faith in them to make a decision. Many parents are too quick to rescue instead of allowing more time.

4. Be sure to be proactive in noticing when they do things that are out of their comfort zone by stating it in very specific terms. " When we saw your friend from school at the grocery store, you had a nice conversation with her about how you both like the teacher. I could see it made her feel good to know you felt the same way. I know that took a lot of courage for you to do that. That's one of the ways you make friends, by talking about things you both like!"
5. You can also use an encouragement chart daily to keep track off all the new things they have tried or learned to do. If you go to my website at , click on Catalog of Parenting Products, then click on Connection Products, then click on Special Skills Poster, you will see an example with instructions for how to do this. You can use a roll of kraft paper or poster board to make the charts. This can be a daily ritual that only takes about 5 minutes and will help them to see themselves a the capable, growing people that they are.
6. Accept them for who they are. You may be of a different temperament so to you it may look like they are lacking in self-confidence but it could be that they are simply different than you. Appreciate that they aren't fussy and particular and know that as long as you are giving them the encouragement that they need, they will be all they are meant to be. Have faith in them.
I hope this gives you a big picture look at your children's behavior. Give yourself lots of credit for being ready and willing to consider new ideas. You are being a loving, conscientious parent. A child couldn't ask for more.
In light and love,
Debi Sementelli
PS ( I would like permission to use this Q and A on my website. I would change all the names and not include your e-mail address. Please e-mail me at if this is unacceptable to you.)



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