Photo: PBS Kids

Preschool is one of my favorite stages in a child’s life. Between the ages of 3 and 5, kids really start developing a sense of who they are and how to be a part of the world around them.

That’s why building self-confidence at this stage of life is essential. We want our kids to see what’s good about themselves, to believe in themselves, and to know they are important.

PBS KIDS has a great lineup of shows that encourage children to find and celebrate what’s great about them, including the new “Donkey Hodie” series. What I love about “Donkey Hodie” is that it celebrates the playful silliness of early childhood while supporting both kids and parents as we work together to build crucial life skills, like self-confidence.

Looking for some ways to boost your child’s confidence skills? Here are some ideas, with help from Donkey Hodie and her pals.

1. Let Them Lead

Self-directed play and learning are crucial to the development of self-confidence. In the “Donkey Hodie” series, Donkey and her pals are the leaders of their own imaginative play and activities. Being in charge of how they play is a normal and important part of children’s development during the preschool stage. Give ample opportunities for independent play. And when you’re playing with your child, you can try being the “actor” and letting your child be the “director.” Encourage them to come up with the ideas for how the play happens and the materials they may want to use. Ask about the details of the choices they’re making, and let them decide what happens next and what the outcome will be. Try encouraging this kind of child leadership in play by asking open-ended questions and saying things like:

  • How did you decide what to name those toys?
  • I wonder what kind of feelings these superheroes are having right now?
  • What do you think should happen next?

2. Get Creative Together

In the episode “Art Show Today,” Donkey must listen to her inspiration and work through her mistakes to create an art project she loves. Artistic play is a fun way to build self-confidence. Creating art or doing other imaginative projects gives children the opportunity to come up with ideas, make decisions on their own, and think about what they like. These are the building blocks of self-confidence.

So make some space to get creative! It doesn’t have to be pre-planned crafts—in fact, going in without a plan is a great way to foster imagination and provide more opportunity for self-expression and decision-making. As Donkey says, “There are so many ways to make art!”

3. Praise Effort in the Process

In the episode “Mountain Climb Time,” Donkey and Panda encourage one another as they climb Mt. Really High Up (“We’re on the right path, buddy!”). Part of being self-confident is recognizing the value in the process of what we’re doing — not just the outcome. We can help instill this concept in our kids by noticing and celebrating their efforts, and helping them to enjoy themselves in the moment rather than focusing on a particular accomplishment. This might sound like:

  • “I see you’re working really hard at that!”
  • “Hasn’t it been fun to spend time creating this?”
  • “You’ve had so many creative ideas for how to solve this problem!”

4. Practice Being Proud (without Being Perfect)

How do we help our kids continue to feel capable, even when they mess up or don’t reach their goals? One way is to practice being proud of one another—and ourselves—and to focus on what has gone well rather than what has gone exactly how we planned. In “Mountain Climb Time,” Donkey and Panda aren’t able to climb the whole mountain on their first try. Grampy Hodie reminds them that just because they didn’t reach their goal the first time, it doesn’t mean that they failed. Your preschooler will flourish when they hear similar messages.

  • “I know you’re sad you didn’t win, but I’m so proud of you for finishing the race and trying your best!”
  • “When you keep trying, you keep learning new things!”
  • “I’m proud of us for working together to get so much done today. We can keep working on it tomorrow.”
  • “Even though it’s not as tall as you wanted, I hope you’re proud of yourself for building such an amazing tower!”

5. Continue Showing Lots of Love

Fred Rogers, whose playful humor and work is the inspiration for “Donkey Hodie,” provided a wonderful model for developing healthy kids and communities. His words and legacy often guide my own parenting and have helped me understand how to build self-confidence in my daughter as she discovers who she is in the world. Fred always said that love is the foundation of everything. “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” When we offer our children unconditional and unquestionable love, we give them permission to see themselves as whole, good and likable people. When we love our kids and let them know it often, we create a world for them where they know they matter. And that is where confidence is born.

Lindsey Pruett-Hornbaker, MA, is a non-profit consultant and writer of grants, curriculum, and essays. She is a wife, mom, and clinical counselor-in-training. Lindsey believes in the power of strong coffee and inclusive communities, and she gets curious about life and parenting on Instagram.

This post originally appeared on PBS KIDS for Parents.
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