tabloid! reader SM (full name withheld on request) is a very worried mother of a four-year-old girl. She writes in sharing her concerns about her daughter, who though good in studies, lacks confidence, does not stand up for herself in school or reacts to abuse, and once home is clingy and refuses to allow SM to share her time with other family members.

Due to family pressure, SM cannot take her child to a counsellor and decided to seek help here.

Before we tackle this issue, one must keep in mind that all children do not have the same level of confidence. But it does not mean they cannot develop confidence. They lack confidence when they do not believe in themselves, when they think of themselves as “less” than others.

Recently, I coached a young boy who believes he lacks confidence because he has a problem with his jaw and if that gets resolved he will be confident. However, what I have experienced over the years is that people use physical issues as crutches to justify their inherent lack of confidence. I am at present helping the child create positive beliefs in various areas of his life so that “action” and “result” help create the pillars of confidence.

As a parent SM, take baby steps and focus your attention on the things the child does well. For example, if she colours tell her how confidently she colours. Make a simple chart and award her a gold star each time she colours well and connect her confidence levels with her ability to colour. You can give stars for her ability (colouring), for her behaviour (sharing toys), for her listening to you (discipline), etc. By connecting your child to her strengths you will help her build confidence in herself and, in turn, she will learn to cling less. When she feels she is “capable” and develops an “I can do” attitude, she will also be able to defend herself. Just as you fill a glass with water, you will fill her up, drop by drop, with all the things she is good at.

Add in a goal to celebrate. Stick a large gold star after every ten stars. So your child is excited to reach the tenth big gold star knowing that she will receive a treat for achieving that benchmark. Celebrate together as a family when she achieves it and she will start to focus better on the things she is doing well and will be motivated to do more to achieve the next ten stars.

Also, you will need to be patient and positive yourself and have faith in your own ability to help your child. It is commendable that you have reached out for help when your child is so young because these years are crucial for her development and will impact her future. If you still feel at a loss on how to manage your child and need guidance, you should seek professional help from a child psychologist or a children’s life coach.

This is an interactive column on parenting skills and child behaviour. If you have a query, write to

— Sunaina Vohra is a certified Youth and Family Life Coach at Athena Life Coaching in Dubai. For more information log on to or call (+971) 56-1399033.