Raising Richmond: Books to boost your kid’s confidence

Last time we talked, I shared a few tricks for helping your little ones fight nerves in tough situations. This week, it’s all about books that can help nip those nerves in the bud.

The last time I wrote, I shared a few tricks for helping your little ones fight nerves when navigating new or tough (i.e. anxiety-provoking) situations. While those tips have proven effective in our house, as I popped back over to the post every now throughout the last two weeks,1 I couldn’t help but think that they all felt a bit reactive to me. After all, they’re put into practice after anxiety rears its ugly head…after the tears and woe start to flow.

Now being reactive isn’t necessarily a bad thing; our biggest successes and most EPIC FAILS as parents often hinge on how we react to our kids and how we teach them to react to the world—particularly in situations we can’t control. However, we can also be proactive in our efforts to model and foster the constructive reactions we hope to see. Namely, reactions coming from a place of deeply-rooted self-confidence2 rather than anger, insecurity, or fear.

So. How do we do that?

Well, to be honest with you, I’m still figuring that out (my son is only four years old, mind you). But I’m putting my hope in these efforts:

  1. Lots of conversations.
  2. Lots of declarations of our love for him.3
  3. Lots of good books.

By “good books” I don’t mean stories that are just funny or sweet or entertaining—although those obviously serve a very important purpose in a child’s life.4 I’m talking about books that—with varying degrees of subtlety—communicate ideas that build their readers up and create that foundation of self-confidence we all want for our kids. Below you’ll find six confidence-boosting books—all in frequent rotation in our house–that will help you work towards that end with your little ones. And let’s all remember: while it’s great to have a plan for when struggles come up, we also need to look for ways to equip our kids to nip those struggles in the bud before they get out of hand—or at least put up one hell of a fight.

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1. The Story of Ferdinand

Written by Munro Leaf; illustrated by Robert Lawson

Ferdinand is a bull. However, unlike the other little bulls he lives with on a farm in Spain, Ferdinand has no interest in running and jumping and butting heads; he prefers to “sit just quietly and smell the flowers.” Ferdinand eventually grows to be very big and strong, earning him a coveted spot in the bullring in Madrid. But despite all of the hoopla surrounding the bullfight—the flags flying, the bands playing, the matador flouncing about—Ferdinand refuses to take part. As he stays true to his gentle, flower-smelling ways, Ferdinand shows kids that it’s OK for them to be themselves too.5 You also can’t help but love Ferdinand’s mother because, even though she worries about him, she chooses to let him go about his business and be happy. As the book puts it, “she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow.”

2. On the Night You Were Born

Written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman

Tillman’s stunning illustrations of dancing polar bears and singing trees are enough to make this sweet book a great bedtime read, but one line near the end solidified its spot in our self-esteem building library:

“For never before in story or rhyme
(not even in once upon a time)
has the world ever known a you, my friend,
and it never will, not ever again…”

Sometimes your kid just needs to know he’s got a special place in this world, dammit.6 This book will help you make sure he does.

3. Giraffes Can’t Dance

Written by Giles Andreae; illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Well, they can’t according to the lions, warthogs, chimps, and baboons sharing the jungle with our long-legged, long-necked friend Gerald. But as we quickly learn, it’s not that Gerald can’t dance; he just requires a different approach (involving the help of the moon and a tiny, talented cricket). Riffing off of the idea that some folks just march to the beat of a different drummer, Gerald’s story serves as a great reminder for kids (and their parents) that we all have the potential to do great things–we just need to give ourselves a chance to figure out the best way for us to go about it.

4. One

Written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi

There once was a book that somehow managed to teach colors, numbers, and how to stand up to bullies ALL AT THE SAME TIME. One tells the story of Blue, a “quiet color” who often gets picked on by Red, the “hothead.” And even though the other colors don’t like how Red treats Blue, they never stick up for their friend…at least not until One comes along. And as One encourages the other colors to stand up to Red,7 young readers quickly learn that sometimes it just takes one voice to make everyone realize they count. Maybe they’ll choose to be that voice one day.

5. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Written and illustrated by Dr. Suess

I once devoted an entire column to this book, so if you really want to understand my adoration for it, head over here. If you’re looking for the short version, here it is: I’ve yet to find a children’s book (or maybe book in general) that better articulates that 1) sometimes life is great, 2) sometimes life sucks, and 3) no matter what, you’ve got it in you to make the most of it.

6. How Do I Love You?

Written and illustrated by P.K. Hallinan

We can talk to kids (or read books to kids) about their individual awesomeness until we’re blue in our respective faces, but those ideas aren’t really going to take root unless our children know we love them. Through what’s essentially an adorably illustrated parent-to-child love poem, Hallinan gives us the words to let our babies know that we love them on their “very best and very worst of days.” And really, once our kids grasp that concept–once they really know it deep, deep down in their guts–they’re golden. The rest is just a bonus.

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What books help make up your family’s self-confidence building toolkit? Feel free to share them in the comments!

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  1. To read comments and to make sure there weren’t any embarrassing typos lurking within the post, not because I just love reading my own words over and over again. 
  2. Which, in my experience, is often at the root of anxiety for any person at any age. 
  3. I don’t care if he rolls his eyes so hard they fall out of his head. This kid will never doubt that his parents love him with the schmoopiest of loves ever. 
  4. For example, I don’t think Blueberries for Sal is trying to convey a particularly deep message, but you bet your sweet bippy I will gladly read that one as many times as my son requests it. Does a more calming book exist? No. It doesn’t. 
  5. While I love this book, my husband refuses to read it to our son. He claims it’s because the book is sad; I think it just makes him feel too many feelings. 
  6. The use of “dammit” in parental expressions of love is totally your call. 
  7. But they find a way to stand up to Red without becoming bullies themselves. I’m telling you, the way this book communicates the value of all people is sort of mind-blowing. 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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