When you are a kid, the world can be an intimidating place. Every day, you wake up and walk into new situations, are expected to learn new skills and interact with new people. As adults, we take these things for granted, but then we have perhaps 30 years of experience with dealing with these situations. A pre-schooler can probably only draw on 5 years of experiences spent mostly at home, with maybe 6 close family members.

It takes a lot of self-confidence for kids to do this every day. As parents, we can help them by re-inforcing their sense of self-trust and giving them the opportunities to grow in competence and confidence.

Keys to Building Self Confidence

Children grow in self-confidence when they realise that they are more capable than they might have imagined. They grow and become more confident when they find that they are able to address and solve issues on their own, or learn new skills through personal perseverance and effort. Creating opportunities for this to happen and rewarding effort and self-motivation are the keys to raising a confident child.

Trust Them to Try
Start by believing in your children. If they want to try something new, or if they are about to enter a new situation, trust them and have faith in their ability to manage the situation calmly and capably. When you have faith in your kids, they can begin to have faith in themselves too.

Model Confident Behaviour
Have confidence in yourself. Model confident behaviour and your children will naturally begin to learn what self-confidence looks and feels like from the outside. 

Create Opportunities for Them
Don’t set your kids up for failure. Remember, as with everything else in life, it is sometimes easier to start with baby steps. Look for age-appropriate opportunities for them to begin trying out new skills. If your 6 year old kids want to learn to cook, don’t choose a complicated stove top recipe for Beef Stew even if it is your family’s favourite meal. Instead, find a simple one-pot recipe which they can make in the microwave oven. Your children will have a chance to learn all the basic skills required to cook, and they will feel the same level of achievement without the danger and stress of having to deal with an open fire. Once they have mastered the microwave, they will be in much better shape to take the stove top recipe challenge.

Mistakes are a Learning Experience Too!
Remember that you are not trying to teach them to be perfect, you are teaching them to be confident in themselves. So accept mistakes. Explain that sometimes, mistakes are a great way to learn and are likely to lead to greater success as they mean that you have explored. Remember that even mistakes are worthy of praise if you focus on rewarding your children for effort and completion and not just for how successful they were at the task they have set themselves.

Encourage and Praise Them
Make learning and trying new things a positive experience for them. Always praise them and encourage them in their efforts. 

One effective way to do this is to mirror their achievements back to them. When they have accomplished something, describe it back to them honestly and in detail when you praise them. Perhaps your daughter has managed to learn a complicated new musical piece. Describe how you felt when you saw her perform it and why it was praiseworthy by using phrases such as “That was a really great performance, I could see that even though you were nervous in front of all those people, you managed to focus on the music. Your hours of practice really paid off and you played the piece beautifully, everyone in the audience was really moved”.

Avoid Negative Comments
Words are more powerful than most of us imagine. Children who constantly hear criticism, a questioning of their abilities, praise only for when they have achieved their goals, a lack of encouragement to try new things and comparisons with other kids, will create an on-going litany of self-doubt in their minds. If this happens often, even without anyone saying a word, your children will play this soundtrack in their minds and will lose whatever confidence they might have had to begin with.

Encourage Accurate Self Perceptions
Sometimes children have irrational beliefs about themselves. These could be about anything – their looks, their abilities, even their place in the social landscape. If you feel that your kids have a distorted sense of their self, gently correct them and redirect them towards an accurate set of perceptions. Try and do this early, inaccurate self-perceptions can become self-fulfilling. Children who are poor at languages, or math or science, may say that “I just can’t do this, I’m not good enough”. If they continue to believe this, they will give up and then the prophecy will become self-fulfilling. An example of what you could say instead would be “You can be good at science, you just need a little more time and maybe we need to change some of your study habits”.

Watch Out for Signs of Bullying or Abuse
When a child’s self-confidence takes a sudden dive, it could be due to bullying or other signs of abuse. Pay special attention if you notice a change in your children. Ask them more about what might be happening in school or with friends and if it is indeed a case of bullying or abuse, take active steps to address the issue. 

Key Takeaways

  • Most children are born with a huge appetite to learn and to explore the world around them.

  • Provide your children with opportunities to imagine, explore, experiment and try new things. When they find they can navigate the unknown successfully, they will grow in confidence and be willing to take on bigger challenges.

  • Focus on rewarding effort and completion and not just outcomes. Learning is a journey and mistakes can be just as valuable in the process of finding the best solutions. 

  • Avoid negative comments, praise, encourage and mirror their achievements. 

  • Watch out for signs of bullying and abuse which are sometimes the cause of a loss in self-confidence in children.