By Christina Rittenbach, Stutsman County Extension agent

Anyone who remembers the mix of fear and exhilaration when learning to ride a bike, giving a speech or playing a solo likely agrees that a bit of success made you feel more confident in your abilities.

You felt more confident, not only in your ability to do that one brave thing, but to do other activities that take courage, too. The old adage that “success breeds success” really does seem to have merit.

Think of a time when you were near a baby learning to walk. Smiling, encouraging parents may have gotten the baby to try walking. Experiencing success is what keeps that baby going, walking, then running and climbing. With each successful step, babies learning to walk build confidence in their ability to move their bodies in a way that helps them get around where they want to go.

Naturally, parents don’t want their children to be hurt in any way: not physically, emotionally, socially, academically or otherwise. Fear can drive parents to hover over their children, helping in ways that may be too helpful and blocking the child’s success and confidence in their own abilities. Perhaps you’ve seen elementary school Valentine boxes containing calligraphy or science fair projects in which an adult did practically all the work for the child.

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Imagine you are working on something that is difficult and a little frustrating for you. Now, how would you really feel if someone waltzed in and took that job away from you? For the moment, you may feel relieved. Later, you may feel incompetent or not as smart or skilled as the other person.

How would you build those skills for the next time you needed to complete this task? We all need to put in the time to learn and practice and, yes, maybe even feel some frustration in the process. Our children do, too, and they are born ready to learn.

From infancy through adolescence, parents can help their children grow to be confident by modeling, monitoring for safety, providing an appropriate environment, teaching skills, setting boundaries and being encouraging. To build their own skills, children need to have the opportunity to experience feeling capable and able.

This comes from doing the hard work themselves. Whether that means standing up, taking four steps, falling and crawling back to the chair to get up again, or studying for the SATs more than once, children have to be in charge of their own competence to build confidence. Parents can be present to cheer their children on for a while, but as children grow, they need their own internal cheerleader to take over - for life.

Christina Rittenbach is an Extension agent with NDSU Extension in Stutsman County and can be reached at 701-252-9030 or christina.rittenbach@ndsu.edu