3 ways to promote healthy self-confidence for kids

Today’s guest blogger is Paul LeBuffe is the Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, Pa.

Self-confidence is a significant factor for children in achieving success both in school and life. Fortunately, like other social and emotional skills, self-confidence can be taught. It is a “Goldilocks” characteristic: Too little confidence can cause children to self-doubt, discouraging them from trying new things; too much confidence may set children up for unexpected failure and may alienate others. As parents our job is to enable our children to develop healthy, realistic self-confidence. Here are three tips to helping them achieve that goal:

1. Help our children SOAR. To gain self-confidence, children need to experience success. To do that, we must first ensure our children have the Skill to accomplish the task. Once our children have the skills, we need to provide plenty of Opportunity for them to demonstrate their competence. Finally, we must Reward our children for accomplishing the task. Often, the best reward is acknowledgement and praise. So remember the acronym SOAR: Skill, Opportunity And Reward.

2. Praise effort, not results. Particularly with younger children it is important to acknowledge and praise effort, not just results. This may seem counterintuitive, but consider an elementary school student who earns As in math. Throughout elementary school, her parents rewarded her for every A. As she enters middle school, the counselor suggests she take advanced math. This student might hesitate or refuse because she has learned that her parents reward success and she may lack the self-confidence to try advanced math for fear that she will earn Bs, disappointing her parents. In contrast, if her parents had praised her hard work, diligence, organization and preparation, she would likely have more confidence that those same skills would help her succeed in advanced math. Acknowledging and praising effort builds children’s confidence so that they can master future tasks.

3. Give our children the opportunity to fail. One of the most important gifts we can give our children is the opportunity to fail, regroup, try again and succeed. As children we learned the aphorism, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," yet as parents we try to shield our children from failure, a phenomenon that has become known as "helicopter parenting." Although well-intentioned, this approach does our children a disservice. We need to allow our children to experience recovering from failure and moving on.

Of course, we should be selective – failures should be manageable and concern tasks, not overwhelming failures that would challenge a child's sense of self-worth. Next time our children bring home a C, discuss how they could have done better and encourage them to try harder next time. As one example of how powerful failure can be, the basketball great Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. His response: Practice harder.

Self-confidence, when grounded in reality, is a powerful force. It can motivate reasonable risk-taking and help children recover from failure. It is a key aspect of resilience, the ability to bounce back from misfortune. And it is a skill that we can all help our children acquire.


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