Think about the last time you were at a playground, a birthday party, or a kid’s sporting event- somewhere you could observe a variety of kiddos. You probably saw some kids running around, playing on the equipment or with friends, interacting and having a good time.
You may have also seen kids who were a bit timid, not as interactive with others or their surroundings and didn’t look as comfortable. By looking at people, even kids, you can often get a sense that some have confidence in themselves while others are not.
I often teach athletes about confidence and in their sport setting, and in sports, you can usually tell pretty easily who’s got confidence and who doesn’t. Confident athletes often look ready, probably have their head held high, and make eye contact with those around them. Their body language shows their confidence.
Less confident athletes, by comparison, may look uncomfortable, glance all around, and likely have body language that suggests they are uncertain or uncomfortable. Which athlete has a better chance of success? The answer is easy: the confident one.
So if confident athletes have a better chance of success, what does that mean in non-sport settings? Well, I don’t think we need to look at “success” for confidence to matter in our kids. Take a moment to think about confidence in your own life: when you felt it and when you didn’t.
What about the people around you? Those you’ve worked with? How has confidence (or lack of it) influenced them, and possibly you? By thinking about confidence as adults (or even back to those tough teenage years), it becomes clear that confidence is critical in life and that it’s important to help our kids with confidence.
What is confidence?
We talk about confidence so much, but what is it? If we want to help our kids (or ourselves) improve our confidence, we need to know exactly what it is. Confidence is the positive beliefs that we have about ourselves. There is a more specific term: self-efficacy, which is believing that we can handle a certain task.
So, when we think about building confidence, we want to help the global belief in ourself, but also in specific situations. For example, I want my boys to believe that they are capable and strong in general, but also build confidence in certain tasks like reading or problem-solving.
Confidence includes having the belief that we can take on challenges, know that we can handle a situation, execute skills, or perform the way we want. Building confidence is one of the greatest skills you can teach your kids. Benefits of confidence include being more likely to experience lowered levels of anxiety, move on more quickly from mistakes, have more perseverance in the face of challenges, and view pressure situations as facilitative (helpful) versus debilitative (hurtful).
In other words, confidence acts as a shield against the impact of some of the tough situations that life presents. Confidence, or belief in yourself, allows you to look at situations as challenges that can be overcome, rather than impossibilities.
You Can Build Confidence
While many think that either you are confident or you’re not, this is not true. Confidence can be learned, and as parents, you can teach it. What follows are a number of ideas to use with your kids to help build confidence.
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Reinforce performance accomplishments
Performing well is one of the most powerful factors that impacts confidence. This may mean building a block tower, climbing a structure at the park, or learning to write their name. Confidence can drop substantially when individuals are not performing as they want to. Help your kids remember past successes (for example, “you stacked the blocks really high yesterday”), and help them feel accomplished again.
For example, encourage them to build a tower that’s a block or two lower, feel good about that accomplishment and then continue on from there. If your child struggles, you can remind them that they were successful earlier and that they will be able to do it again. Our kids need reminders of what they have accomplished in order to build confidence. And remember that these “accomplishments” aren’t about wining or performing well, but rather completing tasks and working hard at it.
Affirmations are powerful, short and simple, present-tense “I” statements that help build confidence and can help create strong positive beliefs. Affirmations can be things you want to be, not just what you already are. Examples: “I am a great climber,” “I am fast,” “I read well.” Help your kids create strong, positive statements that they can repeat to themselves when confidence needs a boost, but also to create that strong shield of confidence to ward off against the challenges they may face, such as kids who are stronger or faster and may cause your child to feel like they’re not quite good enough.
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Confident people have a certain look. By taking on the posture and attitude of a confident person, such as head up, smile, and shoulders back, this helps confidence move from the outside (body language) to the inside (the way you feel). This is true for adults as well! Help your child learn to look confident to observers, even if they are nervous on the inside.
If your preschooler has trouble making friends in new situations, chances are she doesn’t make eye contact and looks uncertain. If you can help her learn to smile, and look people in the eye, she’ll automatically appear more confident and it’s more likely that other kids will approach her. Work on modeling confident body language with your kids and role play (practice with them) situations that they may struggle with- this also helps to boost confidence.
Given that confidence is so important in life, our kids benefit from understanding that confidence can be built. Secondly, we want to give them ways to build their confidence so that they know what to do when they’re feeling like they could use a boost. Use the above ideas to help your kids learn how to take control over confidence so that they have a strong shield against whatever comes their way in sport or in life.
How do you help your kids when their confidence is low?