Hold More, Cry Less

Parents are a child’s first teachers, and there is much that parents and caregivers can do to help nurture young children’s developing thinking skills and – at the same time – helping to build their self-confidence. How do these two sets of skills and attributes go together?

Becoming curious and excited about the world is an important part of being ready to start school, and is something that caregivers encourage in their children from day one. Children develop curiosity and a desire to explore from the first weeks of life: playing peek-a-boo, imitating others, experimenting with objects, solving problems and beginning to ask questions are all first, tentative, steps in this developmental process. In time, children become sensitive to others’ feelings and begin to understand that they are individuals and that other people see the world from a different perspective.

Caregivers help children learn about their world through play, exploration and pretend.2 Almost everything is an opportunity for discovery. Dropping a stuffed animal over the side of the crib begins to introduce the law of gravity. Pushing a Rubber Ducky to the bottom of the bathtub and watching it shoot to the surface gets a child thinking about floating and sinking. As children develop, they begin make-believe play, imitating their caregivers, and asking ‘why?’ All the while, developing their thinking skills.

Almost magically, this same developmental process also bolsters a child’s self- confidence. When children are nurtured, they learn that they – literally – can change the world!

There’s an old native American expression: Hold More, Cry Less.

When parents hold and comfort a fussy baby, she learns that her feelings matter and that the people in her life care about her. When her caregivers show patience and joy in feeding and changing her, she learns that her needs will be met and that her existence brings joy to the people that she loves. These are basic foundations of the development of self-confidence.

When a parent responds often to their baby’s crying, the child learns that they can be effective at getting their own needs met. These children will cry less in later childhood because they begin to trust their own abilities to overcome difficulties.3 Self-confidence further develops as children become concerned with how others respond to them. Seeing themselves from the eyes of someone else changes the way children think about their own behaviors. This leads to the development of secondary emotions such as embarrassment, shame, and pride, and further encourages how much self-confidence a child has. Parents who respond positively to their child a majority of the time help to build up their child’s sense of self-confidence.

Even when a child gets a negative response from someone else, they have a safe and secure environment to return to with their confidence intact.3 It is important for caregivers, even with a child with behavioral problems, to find ways to praise their child’s good behaviors or moments without bad behaviors to help encourage higher self-esteem. Parents can continue to encourage their children’s self-confidence by continually giving positive messages about who the child is and what his or her strengths are. Providing experiences for a child to feel successful and giving them lots of praise can encourage their understanding of who they are and what they are capable of.3 As important as it is to know your ABCs and 1, 2, 3’s when preparing to enter kindergarten, having a positive view of themselves and believing they are capable of doing good things is also a very important lessons for a child to develop before beginning school.

Click here to visit ZERO TO THREE’s school readiness interactive website for more information and helpful videos on how to help develop these skill areas in your child in their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years of life.1

Key Points for Caregivers

  • Play, explore and pretend with your children to help them learn how to think.
  • Encourage your child to find their own ways to solve problems and then give them the support they need.
  • Praise your child’s curiosity and exploration.
  • Respond to your child’s needs and emotions.
  • Give lots of positive praise to your child.

ZERO TO THREE, http://www.zerotothree.org/

Center for Play Therapy (Producer), & Landreth, G. (Writer/Director). (1994). Choices, cookies & kids: A creative approach to discipline [DVD]. Approximate length: 35 minutes. (Available in VHS and DVD from Center for Play Therapy, www.center forplaytherapy.com, University of North Texas, P.O. Box 310829, Denton, TX 76203-1337, 940-565-3864).

Benson, J.B., Haith, M.M. (Eds., 2009). Social and emotional development in infancy and early childhood. San Diego: Elsevier Inc.