Updated: Sep 12, 2022
by Dr. Joanne Foster – www.joannefoster.ca
Young children who are outgoing, playful, assertive, creative, and happy are often thought to be confident. They appear to feel good about themselves, as they interact with their environment, and experience the joys inherent in using their competencies and developing new skills.
That is what confidence is all about!
However, not all children are confident. There are many contingencies in life that can have an impact on how little ones feel, think, and behave. Here are some key take-aways about what embodies confidence, what affects it, and how parents can help children acquire a stronger sense of self.
“Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” 1
Kids may see themselves as being competent in some areas of functioning but not others. For instance, a child may think they’re really awesome at building structures (sandcastles, block towers, and forts), or counting (from one to whatever), or singing (and making up songs). But they may not think they’re s great at playing ball, doing puzzles, or coloring. Children can have different self-concepts for the academic, social, athletic, and other dimensions of their lives.
A healthy level of confidence often ensues when a person is able to do things in areas that they, family members, or friends deem to be important. So, for example, if athleticism is valued in a home or school, and a child is athletically inclined, then that milieu is potentially a confidence-building one. However, if in that context a child feels clumsy, embarrassed, or believes that they’re inept at sports or physical activities, they may lack confidence. Where a child’s capabilities or interests are not honored or encouraged, they’re apt to feel less confident about pursuing or developing them further.
How various possibilities play out will depend on individual situations and on the kinds of supports that are in place to help the child figure things out.
WHAT HAS AN IMPACT ON CONFIDENCE?
“When we’re not mentally standing back and judging ourselves, we are free to listen, and learn, and try, and experience, and do, and care…” 2
What children hear and see during the course of the day will have a bearing on their sense of self and on their responses. The words or actions of others or a child’s ideas about people’s perceptions can trigger self-questioning, including concerns about abilities, peer acceptance, or being able to keep up in different domains whether in a playground, at home, or in a school environment. Kids’ self-worth can ebb and flow while they’re wondering, “Am I good enough?” However, positive messages can boost confidence. Feelings of differentness can be empowering but can also be debilitating, leading to self-doubt.
Feelings of strength, on the other hand, are emboldening and are like springboards for further growth. The kind of praise children receive can be impactful. Praising effort is, for example, preferable to praising “smarts.” See Praising Children in the January 2021 issue of First Time Parent Magazine.)
Resilience is another consideration. Children who are resilient are more inclined to roll adaptively with challenges, overcoming them and becoming more self-assured. (Educational psychologist Michele Borba offers suggestions for fortifying resilience in the May 2021 issue of First Time Parent Magazine.) Other factors that can have a bearing on a child’s confidence include previous successes, degree of risk, developmental maturity, and whether they have a growth mindset (realizing that success accrues step-by-step over time, and that setbacks are part of that process). Perhaps the most impactful factor, however, is when a child believes that they have the capacity to succeed.
TEN STRATEGIES TO HELP BUILD CHILDREN’S CONFIDENCE
“Show faith in your child’s ability to do well. Children who sense that their parents have confidence in them are more likely to be self-assured, and will be more motivated to take on challenges.” 3
Encourage participation in activities that are of interest to your child, and that are doable in a reasonable time frame. That is, engaging and aligned with their levels of readiness and learning preferences.
Increase the scope of tasks gradually so competence increases bit by bit. Acknowledge initiatives and achievements as stepping-stones to new ones.
Demonstrate the power of effort and persistence. Look for opportunities to reinforce this. Show how trying hard leads to accomplishment (which in turn leads to confidence).
Encourage your child to speak up when they have questions, want assistance, or need clarification about how to tackle something. Knowledge about how to proceed helps to instill momentum and confidence.
Get excited about activities! Enthusiasm generates creativity and learning. Curiosity can also inspire kids, and foster their confidence. (See the article Curiosity in Children in the April 2021 issue of First Time Parent Magazine.)
Consider your child’s social preferences and tendencies. Stay open-minded. Look for meaningful play-based and sharing opportunities—collaboration can be invigorating—but don’t push.
Each child is unique and will have their own “fit” with social interactions, activities, or daily circumstances. Finding a better “fit”—and receiving reassurance along the way—can be confidence-inducing. (The article Reassuring Young Children in the April 2020 issue of First Time Parent Magazine contains lots of tips for parents.)
Help kids adjust to change. Familiar routines tend to be comforting whereas unpredictability, vulnerability, or transitions (such as family-related shifts, or a new program, neighborhood, or playground equipment) can undermine a child’s confidence. Changes are inevitable, so share your ways of coping and being flexible, optimistic, and confident when changes arise.
Keep a record of your child’s positive learning experiences and personal accomplishments. (Or you can create this together!) Add to it and refer to it often.
Ensure that your child is able to stretch their capacities in the context of a relaxed but safe environment where they’re listened to, and where their ideas, choices, questions, and concerns are respected. Confidence is not a given. It rests on a foundation of connection and competence, and it’s strengthened when children are offered individually suited learning experiences, and when they’re supported in their efforts. Parents are well-positioned to provide the confidence-building basics to keep the foundation strong, empowering kids to feel ready and able to tackle each new day.
About the Author
DR. JOANNE FOSTER is a gifted education specialist, and the award-winning author of several books, including the 3rd edition of Being Smart — Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, published by Gifted Unlimited LLC., 2021. For additional resources on creativity, learning, productivity, children’s well-being, and more, go to www.joannefoster.ca