Want to raise confident, happy kids? Do these 4 things, a parenting expert says

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Confidence and self-esteem may be among the most admirable qualities someone can hold. But if we aren’t taught how to be confident in our younger years, it can make for a self-conscious, insecure adulthood. 

“Happiness takes many forms, and we want our children to have a skill set that brings out self-confidence,” says Eva Moskowitz, Ph.D., CEO of charter school system Success Academy and author of A+ Parenting: The Surprisingly Fun Guide to Raising Surprisingly Smart Kids.

“In a highly scheduled and frenetic world with lots of external events happening regularly, we can forget that intellectual engagement is actually a pretty important part of a kid’s happiness and confidence,” Moskowitz tells Fortune.

The educator and mother of three weighs in on how to raise and motivate children to be their most confident, happy selves. 

Push children beyond what is ‘easy’

Oftentimes, parents and educators believe self-confidence grows by having kids do tasks that are easily achievable, Moskowitz says. In her experience, though, that’s hardly the case.

“Self-confidence comes when kids work through a struggle—when they are given a hard math problem or given a difficult opponent,” she says. “When they are given a difficult learning task and they make it to the other side, that is what builds confidence. And we take that away from children at our own peril and, frankly, at their own peril.”

In a world of instant gratification, it’s easy to get fed up when we don’t succeed immediately. But success and self-confidence come from navigating and recovering from failure, Moskowitz says. Plus, it feels great to finally achieve something you’ve been working toward.

“I think we’ve lost a little bit of the sense that the most successful people have failed before,” she says.

Little League team cheering

After-school activities such as sports, theater, debate team, and other clubs play an integral role in creating what Eva Moskowitz calls “intellectually vibrant” children.

Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Sports and clubs can teach some skills better than the classroom

After-school activities such as sports, theater, debate team, and other clubs play an integral role in creating what Moskowitz calls “intellectually vibrant” children—who are intellectually stimulated, energized, and challenged—which boosts confidence and happiness. 

“The notion of recovering from failure and the need for resilience is actually sometimes easier to teach in the realm of sports or other team activities than in a classroom,” she says. “Take self-confidence; you can gain that in the theater and on the debate team in a way that is harder to develop in, say, an English or math class.”

Moskowitz worries, though, about barriers that make it difficult for children to have these experiences. For instance, economic factors may make it difficult for some kids to participate in after-school activities they might enjoy, such as sports that require a fee or the purchase of equipment to play.

Teach coping mechanisms for anxiety and stress

School, home life, friendships, extracurriculars, and even things like appearance and crushes are factors that all can weigh heavily on children of all ages, leading to stress and anxiety.

Childhood anxiety disorders affect one in eight children and nearly one in four teenagers, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety can lower self-confidence, but a little of it is actually normal and healthy, Moskowitz says: “It’s a bit of a Goldilocks theory.”

Every child responds to stressors differently, so it’s important to be in tune with your child’s behavior and how they respond to academic rigor or their social environment, Moskowitz says. 

“Most children can learn to deal with stress,” she says. “You’re not going to be able to protect them entirely from the thrust of the external world, whether that is economic pressures or any number of influences in their lives or, frankly, world events.”

She adds, “We really owe it to our kids to treat them to navigate those stressors and to be able to talk to them about what they are feeling and how to cope with those feelings.”

To help a child with anxiety, try teaching them the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding method—or a version of I Spy. Ask them to identify five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This will help engage their senses and calm their nerves. This method may be beneficial at any age.

If a child has the tools to ground themselves and knows how to talk through what they are feeling, they can be confident in their ability to deal with stress and anxiety.

Parents: Enjoy parenting

It’s easy to get caught up in the hullabaloo that is parenting: frantic school drop-offs, overtired kids (and yourself), a million and one items on a neverending to-do list. But kids sense when you’re stressed, too. 

“If you impose your parenting angst and stress on your kids, they won’t enjoy childhood as much as they can and you won’t enjoy parenting,” Moskowitz says. “And it’s really important that one’s child knows they enjoy being a parent, being their parent.”

Watch movies and TV shows with your children that you actually enjoy and play games you like to play, she says. Do these things to not only bond with each other but also ensure you’re happy, too.

“There’s a model of parenting that is all about self-sacrifice, and you can take all the joy out of parenting if you’re not careful,” Moskowitz says. “And that will have a negative impact on your children.”

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