Like many parents, you may be concerned about your child’s confidence and this anxiety can be heightened if your child has a visible physical difference. A 2021 Aussie Hands survey found that approximately 57% of members said that confidence building and psychological support were among their top concerns for school aged children with a hand difference.
It can be reassuring to know that, although children do experience stress regarding their hand difference, their level of self-esteem and self-concept is generally the same as that of other children (Anderson et al., 2009).
A study by McDougall et al., (2020) found that although the appearance of their hand difference bothers some children, others are proud of how their hand looks. When asked what she liked about her hand difference, 10-year-old Kate responded:
‘That I’m different, that I’m not the same as everyone else. (.) I kind of like the scars’
Hear What Aussie Hands Kids Like About Their Hand
After speaking with Aussie Hands families, teachers and psychologists we have put together some ideas on how to build your child’s confidence.
Give them meaningful responsibility
Aussie Hands parents say that putting your child in charge of tasks with purpose can foster independence and communicate that you trust them and their abilities.
‘Taking responsibility for doing things increases their confidence. They realise, “Oh, I can do this, I can achieve this.”’
Here are some ideas you can try with your child:
- Help with the cooking
- Create new recipes
- Feed the pets
- Walk the dog
- Take out the rubbish
- Unload the dishwasher
You can also extend this by encouraging your child to help other people. Helping others provides a sense of purpose and is a great way to solidify knowledge and skills. They could:
- Help the neighbours with chores
- Help friends with their homework
- Teach friends or family a new skill
- Volunteer in the wider community
Set your child up for success
One way to build confidence is to focus on something your child is good at and encourage further development of that skill. Children love a challenge, and working gradually beyond their current skill level is optimal for growth and can provide them with a sense of pride Bunker (1991).
When your child is proud of their achievements, it can make them more comfortable to try new things. When they are trying out a new activity that they find difficult, you can also gently remind them that they are still learning and will improve. You can then link their efforts back to something they have mastered.
‘Remind them of when they were learning another activity that they are good at, for example riding a bike. It felt clunky, they were wobbly, and they fell off. But then, they got more skilled, gained confidence, and it became something they were really good at. Help them identify where they are in the learning process and that it will take time.’
‘Praise must be linked to effort or achievement, not just a constant stream of positive messages. Children need to be challenged to try new things and, of course, fail at some of them just like we all do when learning to walk – we fail but get up and keep trying until we succeed. Encourage and coach and allow falls!’
Encourage participation in extracurricular activities
Participating in extracurricular activities provides an excellent opportunity for your child to learn new skills. In addition, they are a great way to improve physical health, build discipline and foster persistence – all of which can improve confidence. They can also provide an opportunity for your child to participate in social interactions and make new friends, which can also play a large part in boosting your child’s confidence.
‘Make sure your young person has plenty of things that they can do where they get a sense of mastery or a sense of social connection or meaningfulness out of those activities. It may not be that they enjoy school, and that’s okay. But do they have plenty of other things that they do well in to help support that confidence.’
Talk to your child about their feelings
Hearing your child’s struggles can be hard to take in, however, the most resilient children have felt that their parents have heard them and let them feel sad if that is how they are feeling. It might be helpful to remind them of other people they can talk to as well, whether that’s other family members, teachers, a guidance counsellor, or friends.
It’s important to validate your child’s feelings, but it can also be helpful to remind your child they are not alone, and everybody has things that they are worried about.
‘Foster an understanding that everybody has something in their life that they are dealing with. Yours may be physical and visible, but you don’t know what other people are going through.’
One of the biggest causes of stress in social situations for children with a hand difference is unsolicited questioning (McDougall et al. 2020). This can be from people they meet for the first time, but even from friends with the best intentions, asking questions that may cause stress.
Many Aussie Hands parents have said that reassuring their children that other kids are naturally curious can help minimise stress, plus preparing your child with responses to questions can help minimise anxiety.
What can you do if the teacher says something out of line?
Teachers and other adults can also sometimes say hurtful things which may stem from a lack of education or awareness on a topic and was probably an accident. Some options for approaching this situation include:
- Organise a time to talk with the teacher as a parent
- Organise a time to talk to the teacher with your child
- Help your child to write a letter to the teacher