Confidence has two main ingredients, belief and trust.
When you tell your child that he is good at something, he can choose to believe you or not, and if he doesn’t have any reason to think that you are lying, he will often believe you. After all, we’d all like to believe the good things that people say about us. The belief on its own, however, is usually not enough to feel confident because your child also needs to be able to trust the idea. Sometimes, we trust things even if they haven’t been proven, but most of the time we need to have some evidence, and success is the evidence that your child needs to feel genuinely confident. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.
So, how can we help our children feel more confident? Simply put, we need to put some success in their way. Here are some suggestions for how to successfully make that happen.
- Start small and be reasonable. When we try to help our children develop confidence in their abilities, we want to help find a goal that is attainable. If your child tells you that she wants straight A’s this semester, but she has historically gotten straight C’s, you may want to adjust the goal a bit. Not to say that she cannot ever achieve straight A’s, but it’s a lofty start, and it will be very discouraging if she doesn’t attain it.
- Get on the same page. Make sure that you have discussed the goal, and you both know what you’re trying to accomplish. You don’t want to find out later that you were thinking one thing and your child was thinking something completely different. Work together towards the same end.
- Develop a plan. If your child has decided that he wants to get an A in math, then look at what scores determine the math grade. What weight is given to tests, quizzes, and homework? What would happen if your student turned in all his homework, but got C’s on the tests? What would happen if your student got A’s on every test, but didn’t turn in any homework? Know what is expected to achieve the goal so that you have a realistic picture of what it will take. Remember that you can’t expect the same results by doing the same things, and make sure that the plan involves doing things differently than in the past. Also try to anticipate any trouble spots and have a support system in place BEFORE your child starts to struggle.
- Encourage and don’t let them quit easily. Be your child’s cheerleader. Find the things that she is doing well, and use those things to encourage more success. The small accomplishments are what keep us going when things get tougher, so help them remember the achievements if they start to think that they should quit.
- Let them make mistakes and find solutions. They will make mistakes, and they will be able to find solutions. It empowers our children when we acknowledge a mistake and then give them the ability to solve it. When we step in and solve it for them, we send a clear message that we don’t think that they are capable on their own. Empower them!
- Ask a lot of questions. When you see your child getting off track, use questions to help her figure it out. For instance, “I noticed that you got a C on that last test. What do you think caused you the most problems? What do you think would be a good thing to adjust for the next test? Do you think that will work?” If you get the infamous blank stare, ask her more specific questions, “Did you run out of time? Were the problems difficult to understand? Did the questions seem different from what you learned in class? Did you make simple mistakes? Were you able to read through your answers before you turned in the test?” When they come up with their own answers, it is much more meaningful than when you just tell them.
- Teach them the importance of a job well done. Show your child how his hard work has created a good result, and how the bare minimum usually doesn’t get what you want in the long run. This is the solid foundation that our children need for a strong work ethic.
- Help them take the credit. If a child is struggling with confidence, he may be quick to attribute the success to something else. “It was just an easy test” or “I got lucky.” Make sure you celebrate what he has done as an accomplishment so that he can begin to identify with success. That is what will make him both believe AND trust that he is capable, and this is when you start to see genuine confidence in your child.