7 Ways to Raise Confident Kids

Some kids are just born confident. From the time they’re toddlers, it seems that difficulties just roll off their backs. Other kids seem to be constantly second-guessing themselves, even from a young age. They may be nervous to try new things, or they may take criticism so hard that they’re unable to recover from it. The good news is, even children who are not born confident can develop the skills that they need to gain confidence and maintain it.

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By Keren Perles

For kids, developing confidence is key to making their way through the growing pains of adolescence. “Confident children are able to try new things, meet and adapt to other people, and deal with mistakes when something bad happens," says clinical psychologist Dr. Suzanne Reiffel. Confidence pays an important role in every part of a kid's life—not only socially, but academically too.

High levels of confidence have been linked to better academic performance and social skills. But just telling your child “Good job!” or “You’re a star!” doesn’t build self-confidence. “Think of the ‘self’ in self-confidence,” says psychologist Dr. Erica Ross. “It’s the child’s own viewpoint that matters.” As a parent, what can you do to support your kid's inner cheerleader?

Focus on Strengths

Help your child realize what's special about her. For example, she might like to play basketball, draw, take care of her baby brother, or care for animals. These strengths don't need to be things that she's “the best” at, or even things she's succeeded in—they're just her unique interests that make her who she is. Appreciating these attributes can give her a boost when she encounters difficulties.

Make Goals

Have your child set a realistic goal. Guide him to make one that's not too tough, but hard enough that he'll really have something to be proud of, like mustering up the courage to jump off the diving board, or learning how to ride a bike. When he reaches that goal, commemorate his accomplishment and help him remember that proud moment by making a certificate or ribbon to put on the closet door where he'll see it every day.

Practice Confident Body Language

Recent studies show that acting confident actually makes you feel more confident. Teach your kid to use this fake-it-til-you-make-it strategy, speaking with a strong voice and holding his head high every day. As an added plus, other people are drawn to confidence, so your child will also have a chance to make some more friends, says Reiffel. Acting confident even when he's not feeling that way will also help keep bullies away, who often look for kids who seem insecure.

Encourage Self-Evaluation

This one might surprise you—a great way to help your child develop some solid self-confidence is to let her evaluate herself first before giving your feedback. Ask, "How do you think you did?" and "What do you think you did well?" and then follow-up with your own praise after. This teaches her the valuable principle of looking within for confidence and assurance, instead of just basing her self-esteem on others' approval.

Praise Effort, Not Results

When pouring on the praise for an achievement, focus on the effort your child put in and not the result. For example, say, "Wow, those hours shooting hoops in the driveway really paid off!" or "I'm so proud of all the hard work you did to get the A!" Directing his attention this way will demonstrate that it's trying his best and not being the best that's important. It will also make his self-esteem more resilient if he doesn't make the cut next time.

Model Confidence

Having a confident kid starts with having confidence yourself. Through modeling confidence at home, "you can give your child a love of learning, a love of challenges, a love of working towards a goal," says Ross. Tearing yourself down and being self-critical is contagious behavior, but being a confident parent gives your child a positive example to refer to when he's feeling self-doubt.

Teach How to React to Criticism

In their "Charge Up Your Confidence Tool Kit For Kids," Reiffel and Ross include a tool called "4,999 pieces." A child should think of his confidence as a five-thousand piece puzzle. When he receives criticism, he should realize that it only affects one piece of the puzzle, but that there are still 4,999 pieces that he can feel proud of. Encourage him by making him aware that if someone is giving him constructive criticism, it means that person believes he's capable of great things.

Self-confidence might not sprout overnight, but these approaches will get your kid on the path to empowerment. A confident child is be able to face whatever the world throws at her. When she doesn't get a part in a play, when she doesn't make a team, when someone whose opinion she respects gives her criticism, it is her confidence that will help her pull through and learn from the experience, rather than getting bogged down in disappointment. 

Is a bully wearing away at your kid's confidence? Check out these 7 ways to help kids cope with bullying.

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