Self-confidence is a person’s belief in their abilities, and research suggests it is the central factor in one’s ability to achieve. That is to say, if you believe it, you can do it. Or rather, believing in your abilities is a great predictor of whether you’ll actually end up doing it in the end. Like the Little Engine that could, your kid is only held back by whether or not they think they can. Confidence is the first step to doing.
Confident kids believe they are skilled and believe in their ability to learn or perform new skills and behaviors out of what they already know. Self-confidence, though, is specific to certain skills and activities, not all of them. So, your kid may have a lot of self-confidence when it comes to solving math equations, but very little confidence in their ability to give a presentation on the history of mathematics.
Confidence is important for our kids’ achievement. Studies show, though, that as kids grow up, their confidence drops. Perfectionism, people-pleasing, and social competitiveness kick in, and suddenly, our kids feel like they’re total failures. Girls, in particular, are at risk—between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent.
You can help your kid be more confident by acknowledging their abilities, giving them many opportunities to show their skills, and encouraging them to continue learning and growing new skills. Of course, be careful of tipping the scale in the wrong direction—it’s also possible for your kid to have too much confidence, which is correlated with poorer relationships, greater aggression and violence, and a higher tolerance for risky behavior.
Work with your kids on the “Confidence in me activity” worksheet to build a healthy level of confidence, and put the following five ways to help your kid be more confident into action.
Praise effort, not results and fixed traits
Help your kid see their ability to perform by directly praising the effort they put into their work (“I am impressed with all of the hard work you put into this project!”), instead of the results they get (“you got an A!”) or the traits that get them there (“you’re so smart!”).
Focus on their effort with encouragement like:
- “You are getting better and better at multiplication”
- “I admire your attention to detail in building that castle—it really made a difference”
- “Seeing you power through setbacks day after day really makes me proud”
Likewise, try not to focus on results, such as winning a tournament or getting a good grade. Rewarding the effort, not the outcome will help your kid find intrinsic motivation in what they do—they’ll find the behavior personally rewarding simply because they like to do it, not because they’re being bribed or begged. Taking the extra time to reflect on the full experience with your kid—including asking them about the challenges they faced and celebrating the ways they overcame them—will drive home the importance of the journey over the destination.
Finally, try not to praise your kid for fixed traits, like “being” smart, pretty, or athletic. Fixed qualities tell a kid that’s who they are or are not. Instead of framing a success as an innate quality, remember to focus on the effort that got them to where they are. Kids want to know that they weren’t simply born a certain way, but the effort they are putting into learning and growing is actually a source of the skills they are building.
Give them opportunities to show their skills
If confidence is about building your kid’s confidence in their abilities, give them opportunities to flex those abilities. Help them gain a sense that they are positive contributors to the home by allowing them to choose small tasks or chores, like doing the dishes or taking out the trash. Before assigning a chore, though, talk with your kid about the importance of the work and why their contribution is important. Helping them find purpose in the work can be the make or break in them feeling obliged versus motivated to do it.
Encourage them to try new things
The beauty of building confidence is that it allows your kid to grow from the things they already know. Encourage your kid to discover and pursue new interests by following their curiosity. What are the things that strike a chord in your kid? What gets them excited? Help them find new ways to explore those interests. Help your kid gain confidence in certain skills by helping them design real-world learning projects around interests and curiosities.
As they learn new things, encourage them to set and achieve goals, so they are celebrating the small victories along the way. Teach them to use the self-directed learning cycle and SMART goals to break big goals into smaller, realistic, achievable goals. And remember, when we’re learning new skills, we often hit bumps. So, don’t micromanage. Instead, help them use the five power behaviors of self-directed learning shift strategies, respond to setbacks, and carry on.
Show them they matter
Part of your kid’s confidence is feeling loved and valued by you. When we believe in our kids, they mirror that confidence in themselves. Show them they matter by giving them your undivided attention when you can. That could look like daily check-ins and check-outs, weekly 1:1s, or even short bursts of playtime and conversation.
When they want to talk, give them your attention. Make eye contact to show you’re listening. When you’re giving them positive praise, take the extra moment to make the moment special—eye contact, a pat on the back, maybe a hug. As a parent, you can be a huge confidence builder for your kid.
Just as family and friends can be huge confidence builders for kids, they can also be huge confidence destroyers when it comes to negative talk. If your family has a habit of bad-mouthing each other—even if it’s between siblings—make it clear that harsh words are not acceptable. Being called stupid or lazy or being criticized for losing or failure can have a detrimental effect on a kid’s self-confidence—they could internalize the criticism as a truth about them and their ability to achieve. Plus, no one feels good about being put down.
If your kid suffers from low self-confidence, work with them on the “Confidence in me activity” worksheet to show them just how especially skilled they are.