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Confidence and self-esteem in movement

If you’re child has difficulties with moving, they can need a little bit of help and encouragement to build a positive self-image.

“Self-esteem” is how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive what others think of us. If we feel good about our achievements and ourselves, our inner drive to meet challenges and succeed is reinforced.

It’s easy for children with motor difficulties to lose confidence in themselves, especially when they are surrounded by other children who seem to function differently.

A child with self-esteem and confidence issues may be withdrawn or reluctant to join in with activities, especially with other children.

When we’re teaching children to do different movements, we often have too high an expectation. This can be really stressful for children who already have difficulties with movement and can quickly make them frustrated.

Think about:

  • Are the skills being taught age-appropriate?
  • Is your child ready to attempt that level of motor competence?
  • Are you giving consistent, encouraging feedback?

Your child needs you to help boost their confidence. Make sure you’re giving them the opportunity to practise the things that they find hard in a caring and supportive environment where there’s no pressure to achieve a certain standard in a set time. Your child needs the opportunity to practise the skills at their own pace.

You can boost their confidence and overcome their feelings of failure by doing fun activities in a relaxed and patient way. You should praise every attempt your child makes rather than waiting for the “perfect result” as this encourages them not to give up.

It’s also important to focus on your child’s strengths and specific interests and not get too caught up in the things they find challenging. If they take a strong interest in a particular activity, keep encouraging them as they’ll start to build up their confidence, independence and make friendships with other children with similar interests.

Activities that you can try:

  • Movement games that are play-based rather than competitive in nature
  • Individual sports eg golf, cross-country running
  • Break down the physical activity into smaller parts while keeping each part meaningful and achievable
  • Choose activities that will ensure success for the child at least 50% of the time and reward effort, not skill
  • Keep the environment as predictable as possible when teaching a new skill. Introduce changes gradually after each part of the skill has been mastered
  • Make participation, not competition, the major goals when doing fitness and skill-building activities. Encourage children to compete with themselves, not others
  • Allow the child to take on a leadership role in physical education activities (e.g. captain of the team, umpire) to encourage them to develop organisational or managerial skills
  • Focus on understanding the purpose and the rules of various sports or physical activities. When a child understands clearly what he/she needs to do, it is easier to plan the movement
  • Give positive, encouraging feedback. If providing instruction, describe the movement changes specifically (e.g. “you need to lift your arms higher”)
  • When participating in activities that require body coordination or when leaning a new motor skill, the child should be encouraged to slow down, not rush and to focus on their movements. Use a graded approach to achieve success
  • Provide extra time to practice and to place them in groups with pupils who are of a similar ability
  • Staff should be mindful and take a nurturing approach to help children to further develop their skills.

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, do speak to your health visitor or GP.