Parenting Matters: A lesson in competence

Everyone wants to feel competent. But where do you learn how to be competent and how do you get there?

Everyone wants to feel competent. But where do you learn how to be competent and how do you get there?

Feeling competent begins early in life. It is when you feel proud of what you have done. For a child, his achievements are very important to him. They are things he will repeat for anyone because he loves the praise. He needs to feel successful. This even begins with a new baby.

When you smile at a very young child, you are likely to get a smile in return. Most people then are delighted and let the baby know how special that is. That encourages the next smile. The baby sees that what he has done is important and he feels good about it. He will try it again.

As a parent or a grandparent or even a neighbor, you can help a child feel good about what he is doing by giving him a chance to succeed. When you give him things he can accomplish and feel proud of, you are teaching him to feel competent. If you ask him to bring a chair for you, let him know you are really pleased. He can be proud that he brought the big chair for you.

This is building feelings that he can do things he can be proud of. He can read you a book or tell you how many birds just flew by and end up feeling proud and competent.

Praise him when he hangs his coat on the hook you put up for his coat. Comment on the way he brought his dishes into the sink after lunch. Talking with him about how good he is being with his younger sister helps develop his feeling of being competent. Compliment him on how well he can throw a ball or how much he helps with the dog. Don’t make up your compliments; just pay attention to the positive behavior he exhibits.

Positive reinforcement

When children are growing, it is easy to find things to tell them they should do or they should do better. We all need to find ways each day to underscore the accomplishments far more than to correct something wrong. Keep track of your criticism versus your compliments.

What you expect of your child, both verbal and nonverbal, sends a strong message to him about what he is capable of doing. If you think he is capable and competent, he will think so, too. Children need to believe they can do it, making them more ready to try the next thing.

Actually, that is true for all of us no matter what age. Husbands and wives need to pay attention to what is right with their partners far more than what needs to be changed. The old song that emphasizes this was written by Sam Cooke and said it nicely.

“You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with mister in-between.”

So give some thought to how you can make your child proud of his accomplishments so he can feel he is competent and ready to take on the world. Your child begins as an enthusiastic, bold and daring young person. Help him become all he can become.

Give some thought on how you can make your partnership with your spouse alive and adventuresome. Let each other feel the positive regard come from the other one.

Feeling competent makes you confident in the next step you are about to take.


Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at or at 681-2250.