Like most moms, I have no interest in watching my kids grow up with low self-esteem and zero confidence. They have autism and their confidence is continually being knocked when they realize they struggle with tasks that seem effortless to their peers. They used to constantly ask for my help, even with things they could manage on their own. They hardly explored their environment through play and were not assertive. I knew that to help foster their self-esteem and confidence, merely being their cheerleader and showering them with “good job” would not be enough. I needed an effective strategy. Through research, good advice and a smile from the parenting gods, I have found a combination that works for us:
Building Self Confidence in Children with Autism
- Play: I have to admit that it’s not always easy to jump in and truly play with my kids. There are chores to be done and often their games are repetitive and it can be challenging to muster enthusiasm for them. Fortunately, I learned about the importance of play very soon after my older son Ethan’s diagnosis. It is the kind of play that involves getting on the floor, following the child’s lead and completely immersing oneself in play. Allowing the child to choose the activity means that they stay engaged for much longer. I play school many, many times over with Jayden who is in Kindergarten; apparently, being in school five days a week is not enough.
I also learned to give my full attention to the important activity of playing rather than trying to multitask. By taking the time to play, I am telling my children that they are worthy of my time and that I value their interests. That makes them feel good about themselves and builds positive self-images.
- Putting them to work: My kids have been helping with laundry since they were around three years old. They were already playing on the laundry pile anyway so I put them to work sorting the laundry then loading the machine.
In the summer, we plant and tend a vegetable garden together. The garden has made it easier to introduce my fussy eaters to fruits and vegetables. They are far more willing to eat strawberries, peas and raspberries they have grown and picked from their own garden.
In the fall there are leaves to be raked and leaf piles to jump into. In winter, we have small shovels for small hands (to be honest their help with shoveling the walkway is more of a hindrance but that’s not the point).
They may not always love doing jobs around the house but I think children need them. Responsibilities make my children feel valuable and tells them that I believe in them.
- Celebrating their talents and interests: Every child is good at something. I strive to help my kids discover their talents and celebrate them. My older son has very good hearing, in fact, he is hypersensitive to sound. Everyday noises that most people can relegate to the background such as the blender, crying children and busy shopping malls can be bothersome for him. From his acute hearing, we helped him discover his talent for music. He constantly amazes with the sometimes very loud but impressive musical creations he comes up with in our basement. Music has become not only a way for him to express himself but is also therapeutic for him. And just in case you were wondering, loud noises don’t bother him at all if he’s the one creating them.
- Teaching them that their best effort is good enough: I have had to change the language I use with my children. I no longer tell them to “try” to do something because in trying, there is always a risk that they may fall short and fail. Instead, I ask that they do their best. As long as they truly put in their best effort then they have every reason to be proud. It doesn’t matter what others’ results may look like, their best is all they can do and they can be proud of it.
- Ensuring they feel loved and secure: This may sound like a cliché but there are some that are worth holding on to. I think children need to feel loved and accepted and I use every opportunity to tell them and show them. They need to know that there is enough love to withstand every meltdown and challenging behavior.
From that place of love and security, I want them to feel free to explore the world, cope well with any setbacks and thrive.
So far, these five strategies are working and have helped my children become more confident, assertive, proud of their accomplishments and happier.
I believe that even though children with special needs struggle with self-confidence, with guidance, they can learn to be confident, secure, self-loving individuals. It may take a little bit of searching to find what works for a particular individual and family but they all get there in the end.