Dr Garry Landreth famously said:

“Never do for a child what they can do for themselves”. 

While providing a loving environment is a key aspect of developing your child’s self confidence you can also help develop these strengths in them by helping them to feel competent and capable. We can do this by allowing them to experience what it is like to struggle with a problem and figure out a solution themselves, while providing encouragement. A lot of parents find this really hard, they do way too much for their kids. As a result, kids can learn to depend on their parents to solve their problems, believing they can’t do things themselves. Here are some examples of ways parents often do things for in response to their kids’ requests:

  • Mum, can you draw me a dog? Of course sweetie.
  • I’m bored, what can I do? What about playing guess who, or going outside?
  • Dad, can you make a house for me? (points to the lego) Yeah sure, I’ll be there in a minute. 

For most parents, allowing a child to struggle with a problem, especially when they ask you for help, is hard. It can feel much better to swoop in and do it for them. However, think about it this way:

Allowing children to struggle a little and solve their own problems is a necessary process for children to feel confident and capable. You will never know what they are capable of unless you allow them to try!

The next step in letting them struggle, and consequently building your child’s self confidence, is to use phrases that return responsibility to the child for solving their problems. For example:

  • Child: “Mum, can you draw me a dog?” Mum: “That’s something you can do”
  • Child: “I’m bored, what can I do?” Dad: “That’s something you can decide”
  • Child: “Dad, can you carry this for me? (school bag)” Dad: “That’s something you can do yourself”


The final step in helping with you child’s self confidence and developing a positive sense of self as capable, is learning to respond in ways that give children credit for ideas, effort and accomplishments, without praising (for a recap on this idea, see this article). For example:

  • You drew that horse by yourself!
  • You found something to do, you’ve decided to play transformers.
  • You carried your bag all the way home yourself!
  • You figured out how to open it!
  • You found a way to do it!


It may take a bit for your kids to get used to a new way of responding, especially if they’re used to their parents giving in and doing things for them. But keep trying! It will build a happier more confident child in the long run.





If you think your child needs treatment for self-confidence, self-esteem or self-worth, please contact Play Therapy Melbourne to discuss how we can help you.

Play Therapy Melbourne has child psychologists and counsellors who specialise in child counselling across Melbourne, including Eltham.


Ray, D. (2011). Advanced play therapy: Essential conditions, knowledge and skills for child practice. NY, New York, Routledge.