I worry sometimes, about my daughter’s confidence. Like most worries about our children, this is rooted in my own experiences. I was always a pretty shy kid, as far back as I can remember. I was apparently terribly upset when my mum used to drop me off at nursery, and I seem to remember being happier playing by myself than joining in with the other kids. At primary school, this didn’t affect me much. It was a small school and everyone pretty much muddled along together without forming groups or cliques.
Middle school was a different matter, massive and overwhelming, and I retreated into my shell even more. Still, I had my little group of friends to play football and computer games with, which helped me worry less about the shyness I felt in larger groups. It was as a teenager though that my confidence really disappeared. I drifted away from one group of friends, and never really felt like I found another. At this crucial stage of life I felt alone, unimportant, insignificant.
Things improved once I began University as I found new friendships that endure to this day, but I still never felt confident in my qualities as a person, and this showed in my love life in particular. I would never ask a woman out, or make the first move, as I truly believed there was no possible way they could be interested in me. Unless a woman threw herself at me, which, it’s fair to say, was a pretty rare occurence, I was going to remain single.
Then one day in my late twenties, I was bemoaning this situation, and my lack of confidence, to a friend, She said something that has always stuck with me, ” The thing is, no-one know that you’re not confident. It may be how you feel, but to anyone who meets you, it’s not obvious. To them, you’re no more or less confident than anyone else”. This conversation helped me realise that confidence is, at least partially, an illusion. The people who appear most confident are often, once you get to know them, totally insecure, whereas as the quietest, meekest people can have a powerful inner core of belief. I didn’t suddenly become this super-confident guy, but it was around this time that my life started to change for the better, I became bolder, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within a year I had met my wife.
So how does all this relate to my daughter? Well, I think we all want our children to have the things we didn’t have, whether they be experiences, material items, or personal qualities. As I struggled with confidence for so long, I don’t want it to be the same for my daughter. I find myself worrying that she is too shy, and occasionally saying to other parents things like “Oh she’s just a bit shy today”, if she doesn’t want to interact with their child at soft play or some such place. This is, of course, a stupid thing to say, as if my daughter keeps being told she’s shy then that is how she will see herself, and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
Some kids will throw themselves straight into a situation, some will take their time, assess, and join in when they’re good and ready. One isn’t any better than the other. There might be the odd occasion in life where being a super-outgoing confident person helps, but being an introvert can also be a great thing (just check out this book on that very subject). My daughter may grow up to be an introvert, or may not. I certainly know other children who were super-shy as toddlers but grew to be outgoing children. The important thing is that she remains true to herself, and that no-one, including myself, tries to make her into something she’s not. And I know, from my own experience that the one thing most likely to improve your confidence is someone appreciating your qualities and loving you for who you are.
P.s. Get Confident, Stupid is a Simpsons quote of course. I was reading an advice column in the Guardian recently and someone in the comments jokingly quoted this in response to a man struggling to get a girlfriend, and immediately a number of people who didn’t get the reference weighed in telling him how insensitive he was. The lesson? Any joke on the internet will always be misconstrued. Which is why I never make any.