How Playing on the Playground Can Help Kids Build Confidence

People who work with children regularly know just how vital and impactful self-confidence is in their development. Children with healthy self-esteem are proud of their accomplishments and feel more confident about their ability to succeed in the future. Further, they enjoy more significant levels of peer- and self-acceptance. Overall, building kids’ confidence helps them be their best at home, socially, academically, and personally, and is a vital part of healthy child development. The playground is a prime spot for building a child’s self-confidence.

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3 Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Kids

A healthy sense of self-esteem helps prepare kids for the challenges they’ll face as they grow up. While kids may display different signs, here are some that could indicate potentially low self-esteem.

1. They Express Less Interest

Kids may give up on a project, task, or game as soon as they become frustrated or even shy away from engaging in challenges to avoid failure. Classwork and grades may decline for school-age kids, and they may seem to pull away socially from friends and playmates.

2. Their Personality or Behavior Abruptly Changes

Those who experience lower self-esteem may also express that through changes in their “usual” personality or behavior. For example, a previously outgoing kid may become quiet or sad. A cooperative one may turn to bossiness to combat frustration. Regression is another behavior change that can indicate self-esteem challenges.

3. They Criticize Themselves

Kids may demonstrate low self-esteem by seeming to struggle with praise or criticizing themselves. They may make negative statements about their physical appearance, intellectual capacity, or peer acceptance when compared to others. At the same time, they may seem to be very sensitive to others’ opinions and too eager to please to win favorability.

What Causes Lack of Confidence in a Child?

There are many reasons kids could lack confidence, and they differ significantly. While the precise causes can be challenging to pinpoint, several scenarios could impact their self-esteem.

1. An Absence of Responsibilities

Parents and caregivers may feel like asking their kids to do chores places undue stress on them. In reality, kids may gain a sense of accomplishment when contributing to a cleaner home or completing a helpful task. Age-appropriate chores can also increase their feelings of community and service, another boost for their self-esteem.

2. A Lack of Opportunities to Make Mistakes

Similarly, kids should have the chance to make mistakes and learn that choices have consequences. When they’re encouraged to view mistakes as learning opportunities instead of failures, they can sharpen their decision-making skills to raise their confidence.

3. Unrealistic Expectations

High expectations can motivate kids, but expecting perfection can have the opposite effect. If kids think they can’t meet their role model’s hopes, they can become frustrated and feel as though they’re unworthy. In turn, that can lead to a lack of desire to challenge themselves, further worsening their self-confidence.

How Time on the Playground Can Help Kids With Confidence

To facilitate a child’s self-confidence development, pique their interests by encouraging them to delve into new experiences. Reassure them that it’s okay to make mistakes and help them cope with these incidences. The schoolyard or community playground is an important location for building relationships, learning reasonable risk-taking, achieving goals, learning skills, and managing feelings when things go wrong. Play helps kids develop the physical, mental, and emotional skills they need for lasting confidence and self-acceptance.

The following five ways capture how playground experience can develop self-esteem.

1. Builds Social Skills and Relationships With Others

All people want to belong with their peers. However, some kids find making friends more difficult than others. If a child feels like an outsider among their peers, they might worry about their ability level or popularity status compared to the other kids. However, you can help kids overcome their fears to feel a sense of accomplishment and community belonging.

Swingsactivity panels, and other playground equipment let kids explore their interests in a safe place while focusing on shared goals. Facilitate collaboration in play with an inclusive play space. This type of play also removes some of the trepidation and awkwardness kids might feel when meeting new people.

Further, play with others helps children learn and practice valuable social skills such as turn-taking, getting along, agreeing on mutually decided rules, sharing, accepting and understanding diversity, and resolving conflict.

2. Allows Kids to Make Independent Decisions Safely and Pursue Their Interests

Empower kids by providing them with a safe place to make their own choices. Structured play with an adult is essential for child development. However, unstructured playground playtime gives children the power to explore their interests independently as they try out various new activities and equipment and decide which they enjoy the most.

3. Encourages Healthy Risk-Taking

Any time a child tries something new, it’s an opportunity for a self-confidence boost. Kids need to take risks to build lasting confidence, and a playground allows them to take these risks in a safe, supervised environment. Walking across a balance beam or swinging across the monkey bars might feel intimidating to them at first, but they’ll feel a sense of pride as they learn new skills and achieve their goals.

4. Teaches Children to Achieve Realistic Goals

You can help children achieve their goals with minimal fear of failure by engaging with them during playground time. With your guidance, children will understand that recording their previous steps to success was the best way to achieve their goals. If you praise them for focusing on the effort they put forth when they were successful, such as their excellent focus, resilience, or perseverance, you’ll be able to help children focus on how they can replicate successful behaviors in the future.

When playing and growing with children, adults should maintain a growth mindset. Rather than comparing children to one another based on antiquated milestones, evaluate how each child develops as an individual. A growth mindset sees children for their potential rather than how adults and standard systems perceive their inherent ability. Therefore, children should be pushed within their capabilities during play to stimulate active, constant growth. Instead of focusing on children’s mistakes, adults should center the successful steps to achieve their goals.

5. Develops Essential Life Skills

The skills children foster through playground play dramatically affect their development. Playing can improve cognitive function, facilitating learning and contributing to higher test scores, which ultimately increases classroom confidence. Children will also physically develop through play by practicing skills like hand-eye coordination,  boosting social skills, expanding their critical thinking skills, and encouraging creativity. Progressing in these abilities can help kids succeed and feel capable and confident both academically and socially.

In addition to feeling more competent in their decision-making abilities, kids can discover talents and interests they didn’t know they had as they try new things. They’ll feel a sense of pride as they identify activities they’re good at and genuinely enjoy.

6. Helps Kids Manage Disappointment and Frustration

Although playgrounds are home to some of the best childhood memories, children can also experience impatience, frustration, and disappointment when working with others or trying something new and failing. When they have to practice patience by standing in line to use the slide or playing with someone who is still learning to share, they learn how to deal with these negative experiences and that they aren’t the end of the world. Caregivers can appropriately encourage kids to manage and overcome negative feelings effectively.

How to Help Kids Build Confidence

Children rely on caregivers to help them develop confidence. If you’re wondering how you can boost your child’s confidence, start by mentoring and encouraging them on and off the playground.

1. Praise Their Efforts and Minimize Criticism

Praise is instrumental in building self-esteem — especially when you praise kids the right way. The best recognition is specific and focused on positive attitudes and efforts rather than just results. For example, you build a child’s confidence when you praise their perseverance at a task. By commending them for sticking with something — even if they failed — you’re letting kids know it’s okay not to be perfect and reinforcing the belief they can handle their setbacks.

You should also offer praise at the correct times, which is when it will be meaningful. If you over-praise, you’ll risk sending the message that they cannot continue improving because they’re already perfect.

It’s also essential to use criticism sparingly. Pay attention to what kids do well and enjoy, then help them develop these strengths — but remember that perfection is never the goal. Constant criticism can translate into how kids think about themselves and that they’ll never be good enough, but nurturing their strengths helps them feel capable and accepted.

2. Teach Them Positive Self-Talk

Although your praise and encouragement are essential for teaching kids to cope with insecurities, frustration, and disappointment, you won’t always be there to offer your support. Therefore, you should teach kids to build themselves up when their confidence is wavering.

Teach children a mantra like “I think I can, I think I can” when encountering an activity for the first time, or remind themselves of a past accomplishment when experiencing something new. Encourage kids to recover after a mistake by saying, “Mistakes help me learn!” or, “I can try again later!” This positive self-talk is a skill kids will be able to use throughout the rest of their lives.

You should demonstrate positive self-talk to your kids by practicing it yourself. Serve as an example for your children by explaining your efforts to achieve the realistic goals you’ve determined for yourself. Give children examples of times you both succeeded and failed, and explain how each experience contributed to your knowledge today.

3. Join in With Their Play

You can also expose your child to positive self-talk by joining in with their play and encouraging them to confront challenges within their ability level.

You can join in with your child’s play by reassuring them that their fear is a natural response and that they should evaluate the situation. Children may decide they’re safe based on factors such as adult presence and safety designs built into playground equipment, leading them to try something that challenges them.

Reassure children that all kids find that their first time doing something new is scary, but that’s how they can learn. You can be there for your children by helping them tackle each new task one step at a time. Playing with your child will build their confidence by teaching them to set achievable goals within their abilities. By playing with and encouraging your children, you’ll be able to develop their positive self-talk and build their confidence while helping them perceive which goals are the most attainable.

However, let your child lead when joining in on their play. When a child initiates or leads an activity, they may feel more valued and important. Help your child feel like their ideas matter by following their creative lead during their playtime and expanding on the worlds they create. You can start by asking them if they have any ideas. Then, you can work together to build a make-believe world that fits both of your goals.

Children on playground climber

4. Let Them Exercise Their Independence

Especially at younger ages, adult supervision and guidance can be an essential part of playtime. However, parents and caregivers should look for ways to step back occasionally and let kids exercise their independence.

Children have a natural desire to try things on their own — it’s a healthy part of childhood development and a meaningful way to build confidence and competency. Plus, giving them an opportunity to make some decisions and take on challenges independently reinforces that you trust them, which boosts their confidence.

Demonstrate new activities for kids and provide support as they begin, but also allow them to practice their independence — even if they encounter obstacles or make mistakes. Allowing kids to try things on their own doesn’t have to mean compromising a child’s safety. Perceived risk and independence are what matter. So you can still keep a watchful eye as your child tries to climb up the ladder on their own, for example, or even be ready to jump in if needed.

5. Stick to Age-Appropriate Activities

Kids can become discouraged if they try and fail at an activity that is simply beyond their capabilities. While kids need to learn how to cope with failure, a child’s confidence can suffer from too many attempts at something that is simply beyond their grasp. This is where some guidance from parents can help tremendously.

Directing your child to age- and ability-appropriate activities so they feel capable doesn’t mean you should avoid challenges. Challenges should be easy enough for children to understand with minimal frustration but hard enough that success feels like an accomplishment. For example, your preschooler may not have the upper body strength needed to traverse the monkey bars, but they may still feel accomplished with you holding them up as they grab onto the bars.

6. Play Confidence-Building Games

If you want to make a concerted effort toward improving kids’ self-esteem, consider some children’s confidence-building games. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Catch the compliment: One of the best games to enhance self-esteem is called “catch the compliment.” This game looks like a simple game of catch, with players standing in a circle. The twist is that as someone tosses the ball to another player, they must compliment the catcher. For example, you could toss the ball to your child and say, “You have a contagious smile!” or “Your drawings are so creative!” Then, the child would do the same for whoever they throw the ball to next.
  • Obstacle course: Obstacle courses may take a bit of set-up, but they’re great fun and can encourage kids to overcome challenges and repeatedly try to beat their own time records. You can also create an obstacle course on the playground by just using your imagination. For example, you might decide that certain parts of the ground are lava and watch kids find creative ways to skip and climb their way across this adventurous landscape.
  • Made-up games: It’s also a great idea to let kids come up with their own games. This is an excellent way to foster their creativity and build their self-confidence. Allow as much freedom as you can for kids to use their imaginations, only intervening if you foresee a legitimate safety concern. Kids can be impressive inventors when it comes to manufacturing fun, so you may be surprised by what they come up with!

7. Set Realistic Goals

Goal-setting is an important life skill for helping kids achieve what they set out to do, fostering their sense of accomplishment. Help them express their desires and divide them into smaller, realistic, and actionable steps. Doing so validates their interests and dreams. As they reach their benchmarks, celebrate their successes with them and coax them to take on new goals and challenges to continue building their confidence.

8. Encourage Them to Help Others

Kids can derive a great amount of self-esteem from helping others when they see the impacts of their service. Consider letting them volunteer for an age-appropriate project or join a service project to experience the confidence coming from acts of kindness.

The playground is also an ideal place to let them share their skills by teaching a sibling or playmate how to climb ladders or navigate an obstacle course.

Shop Playgrounds From Little Tikes Commercial

Playgrounds are instrumental in building children’s self-esteem. To encourage development at your community organization, school, daycare, or worship center through play, consider partnering with Little Tikes Commercial for high-quality commercial playground equipment.

We understand playtime’s importance in building lasting self-confidence and developing critical life skills. That’s why we offer a wide variety of swings, slides, tunnels, climbers, and other equipment designed for kids of all ages to have a fun, safe, and enriching playtime experience.

We offer design assistance, financing options, and numerous other resources to help communities like yours build a playground that meets your needs and budget. Contact us today for more information about our innovative playground solutions, or request a quote to start designing the perfect playground for the children in your community.

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