My child amazes me. His confidence in himself and his abilities is, for the most part, extraordinary. Where he gets it is beyond me. Confidence has never been my forte. As a middle child, I am an assimilator. I have never fought for attention, I just meld in. I tend to not stand out. I am not a strong communicator. I despise small talk and do not normally remember names or even faces unless the person is in my life a lot. On the other hand, B is all of this.
It struck me most recently when I was walking with him the other day. I meet him on his way home from school to cross him across a pretty busy street. While we were there, another parent with two children walked past him. As she walked past, I kind of did what I always do – ducked my head and nodded. In stark contrast, B looked the adult in the eyes and said, “Sorry, ma’am, I’ll move my bike; I was just giving my mom my backpack.” The mom smiled and told him it was no problem. As she crossed the two little girls, one of them fell in the road. Ben (after crossing safely) went to the mom and asked, “Is she all right? Can I help?” All was well, but then as we enter gymnastics, this mom and little girl were there. B immediately recognized them and made small talk. It was the little girl’s first time at the gym, so B took it upon himself to show her the ropes. I am in the background, silent. I nod to mom and go sit down and read my book and watch my chid with the other gym moms – most of them chit chatting with each other.
Chid psychologist, Meghan Leahy, reflected on confidence in children when she wrote in a Washington Post parenting advice column, “Confidence, for children, is a result of feeling accepted and safe. Think about that for a moment. Confidence, or that ‘venture forth’ chutzpah we see in many children, comes from a deep place that can be cultivated . . . Confidence can be inspired by caring adults, and it can be recognized and grown — but it cannot be given. The ability to feel confident can differ from child to child and temperament to temperament.”
It can also differ from place to place.
My child exudes confidence in nearly all places. There are two places where he is shy and awkward and unsure of himself. There are only two places that he stumbles over his words and his actions and that his lack of confidence is so deep it interferes with his performance. After reading this article, it caused me pause because the difference in his confidence has bothered me for some time and I could not figure out why B is so incredibly confident in all places but these two.
One place he only visits once or twice a year, so that is mostly caused by being unfamiliar with the place and the people and the circumstance, I am sure.
But the other is a place that he is in a number of times a week. No matter how successful he is there; no matter how much praise he gets; it does not feel safe for him.
Last night, he had a meltdown and said pretty boldly, “I feel like crap when I am there. I can’t do anything right.”
So the question becomes, what do I do? Will it boost his confidence by gutting it out and staying and getting some success? Or am I killing his confidence by telling him he should stick it out? It is a never-ending conflict. As a child, the answer from my parents was always, if you do not like something, quit. I have a lot of regrets that I walked away from some pretty cool things the first time it got a little difficult. I do not want this for him. But I also do not want him to hate something because he stayed too long.
I wish I had the confidence that B does in most places to know what to do and go with it.