6 Tips to build confidence in children

To build confidence in children, its first important to understand a little more about how confidence affects us. The renowned psychologist Albert Bandura undertook numerous studies which proved that the area of self-confidence, known as self-efficacy, enhanced human accomplishment and personal wellbeing.  He proved that increased confidence enhances the ability to; 

  1. Try new things 
  2. Rebound after failure or making a mistake 
  3. Be more resilient and persistent 
  4. Sustain effort for longer 
  5. Attribute failure to lack of effort compared to lack of ability 

But he also found that low confidence created the opposite detrimental effects such as; 

  1. Fear of failure 
  2. Lack of effort 
  3. Anxiety 
  4. Stress 
  5. Depression 
  6. Attribute failure to your own ability and not the effort you put in  

An article from the college foundation of North Carolina summed up Bandura’s confidence research;

‘Self confident people are more successful in all areas of life’.

College foundation of North Carolina

This is why at Life on Time confidence is one of our founding coaching principles.  For the best chance of long-term success and wellbeing it’s really important to build confidence in children.

We were lucky enough to speak with a Premier League sport psychologist Dr Karl Steptoe who is the lead sport psychologist at Loughborough University. Karl gave us some really helpful insights on how to build confidence in children and young people.

6 tips to help build confidence in Children

1- Don’t leave it to chance

When looking to build confidence in children it’s important to know that it is controllable.  Dr Karl Steptoe notes that the presence of confidence is not ‘mythical’ in the way it comes and goes and by having a plan to build confidence can help improve the performance and wellbeing of your child.

2- There is no quick fix

Unfortunately, when looking to build confidence in children there is no quick fix. Karl notes we need to continually monitor the

‘battle between focusing on long term success and short term results’.

Sometimes it’s very easy for us all to get caught up with results rather than the process of learning, which can end up creating negative emotions for the child, parent and teacher.

3- Build a plan around the child

It’s very easy when looking to build confidence in children to look at what others are doing, but what makes one child confident is different to another.  Karl notes it’s best to ask them what makes them feel confident.   Getting them to look back at previous experiences when they have been confident and doing a ‘small audit’ of what they did prior to the event so it can be replicated, can really help.  It could be simply to do with their sleep, practice or clarity on a plan from a teacher or coach.

It’s not about recreating the wheel as every child will likely to have felt confident about something before, even if it was just a feeling of being certain of something. 

Karl uses a great analogy of a ‘confidence battery’ to help his clients visualize and understand what effects their confidence.  He asks them what things ‘charge the confidence battery’ and which things ‘drain’ it.  Asking your child these questions can help them visualize and identify the events and actions which can be implemented into to a plan to build their confidence.

4- Increase their sources of confidence

Karl notes to help build confidence in children it’s really important to add sources of confidence which are not purely based on their last performance or experience, as relying on these inevitably creates a fragile form of confidence that can easily be broken. 

‘The most confident performers I work with have multiple measures of success’

Dr Karl Steptoe

Therefore, to help build confidence in children we need make sure they are not just focusing on black or white performance indicators such as winning or losing or passing or failing an exam.  New indicators need to be created and focused upon involving development, learning and progression.  Therefore, if a child gets a bad result or loses a match they can still come back with some ‘psychological return on that day’. They may have had a bad day, but if they have learnt how to ask for support or have persisted and worked hard throughout, they have succeeded in learning some important skills.

Another source of confidence should come from surrounding the child with a team who can help them build confidence.  Karl notes its;

‘It’s unfair to expect a child to build confidence on their own’

Parents are especially important in this role as Karl notes it’s easy for them to unintentional knock confidence in their children by asking questions which lead the child to focus more on results compared to the process of learning and developing.

5- Ask them to engage with stories which will help them in the future

It’s very easy for us all to focus on narratives in our minds which aren’t beneficial in helping us in the future.  When looking to build confidence in children we need to teach them how to challenge and reshape the stories in their minds which aren’t helpful to their future.  Parents have a large part to play in this as they can help challenge these stories and find ways of promoting more helpful ones.  Karl notes that it can be difficult to engage children in these processes, so it’s important to become creative. 

For example, to help challenge the way his performers reflect on a performance Karl asks them to leave voice notes and also simulate ‘match of the day’ interviews after the performance so they have to talk about their performance as if they were talking to a tv crew.  He notes that by doing this his performers speak more highly of their performance which tends to be a story which is helpful for their future performances.

There is no right or wrong about which story a child picks, it’s about finding the story that is helpful to the child moving forward.  Try asking them what they think is helpful for them to think about and what about that is going help serve them in future?

6- Set achievable goals – but don’t hold the bar too high

Setting goals is a key skill when looking to build confidence in children, however its really important to make sure the goals are achievable, and you are judging their performance on a scale which is realistic to their age.

Karl notes that many parents unknowingly expect their child to behave and perform like a mini adult, but he believes that’s just not realistic.  It’s important for children to feel success by setting goals which are achievable as if they aren’t it will damage their confidence.

For more information please listen to our podcast.  If you are looking for specific help with sport specific confidence get in touch with Dr Karl Steptoe via his website A Moment to Perform

If you are concerned about staff or student wellbeing at your school we have an innovative platform, which can help you monitor and improve wellbeing and personal development. Find out more below…

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