Building Confidence in Young Children

Question: How do I stop the constant bickering between my two girls, ages 3 and 5 years?

Answer: That is a huge question; and I only have space allotted for a small answer. Basically, sibling rivalry is jealousy. Why would one child feel jealous of the other? Because one sees the other child as better, more deserving (of parent’s attention, etc.) Consider a time when you felt jealous, threatened. Do you think more confidence or increased self-esteem would have eliminated that problem?

So, a good way to eliminate the rivalry would be to build confidence – that is how we get to the root of the problem. A million rules, time-outs, screaming, etc. are all the desperate measure that we usually take “in the moment”.

Recently I wrote an article on Encouragement (which is different from praise). If we want to encourage a child, we notice their unique skill; point it out to them; use this as a springboard to invite the child to accept new challenges. For example: Mary says: “I can’t put my shoes on.” Mom replies: “You are very capable. I noticed how you washed your baby and dressed her. You know how to figure things out.” By doing this you have planted a seed of confidence. Whenever possible, create opportunities for the child to experience success. This will build confidence.

Another tool is to encourage cooperation. In our school, I feel that the most important lesson I can provide is to build community among the children. In the real world, we function at our best when we work together; when we eliminate competition and rivalry (I realize that this runs against the grain of free market and capitalism. It all depends on your definition of “best”). Whenever possible I have the children help each other – instead of me helping them. I have them tell each other how they feel about a particular behavior – rather than me telling the offender. When we have a project, I give the children (2 and 3 years old) as much responsibility) as I feel they are capable of handling -and then just a little more – because they always amaze me. I wish I could show you the slide show of some of our projects.

A recent project: We had a new, empty planter box. I told the children that we were ready to plant carrots and beans. I told them that we needed the wheelbarrow to carry the soil to the box. I pointed to the wheelbarrow, which was inconveniently upside down, under a distant bush. They jumped to the challenge. They righted the wheelbarrow, removed the toys in their way, and wheeled it to the other end of the yard (about 50 yards and around the corner). My job was to lift 3 large bags of soil into the wheelbarrow. Together, they wheeled it back to the planter box. I opened the bags and positioned them over the planter box. Just take the rest on faith – they really, really did turn the large bags of soil over and dump them into the planter box. I made the trenches for the seeds. They planted and watered, completely on their own. So, this might seem like a cute, entertaining story, but it is actually an excellent way to build cooperation, confidence and self esteem. It also saved me from having to do the work myself!

If you have questions or comments about this issue – or any others, please email me at

If you are interested in learning more about Positive Parenting (and topics such as the above), please contact me for info on my next workshop. My phone number is 769-7921,

Carolynn DiGiuseppis a certified Montessori teacher with a Site Supervisor Permit and a Master Teacher’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. With over 30 years of experience caring for children, she is the Director of Carolynn’s Montessori for Toddlers in Petaluma.