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How to Build Confidence in Children

Eight pro tips for nurturing confidence that will last through adolescence and adulthood.

Whether you’re applying for your first job, giving a boardroom presentation, or just trying to make some new friends, confidence is key. It empowers you to feel comfortable in any situation, go after what you want, and achieve ambitious goals. And it starts in childhood.

“A confident child will try things other kids might not try,” says Linda Altick, Executive Director of Wesley Prep, the Dallas private school that serves kids from six months to sixth grade. “That ‘bring it on’ mentality helps children to embrace new challenges and put themselves out there, because they’re confident they can handle whatever comes up. This defining trait will follow kids as they move through adolescence and adulthood.”

Now in its 50th year, Wesley Prep has a proven track record of empowering today’s kids to be tomorrow’s leaders. So below, Altick shares her top tips for fostering confidence in children to prepare them for what’s ahead.

Setting and adhering to reasonable goals shows kids how much they’re truly capable of.

Give Praise and Positive Feedback

Love your child first and foremost, and make sure they know that you do. Give praise and positive feedback as often as you can, while always keeping in mind reasonable expectations.  You can praise a child’s effort even if you cannot always praise the results. For example: “You worked really hard on this. You used lots of color!”

Provide Children with Developmentally Appropriate Activities and Lessons

Certain activities are best suited to kids of certain ages, so it’s important that your child is engaged in age-appropriate academics and play. For example, Altick advises against giving your 18-month-old an electric train. Instead, opt for something simple that they can touch, interact with and move around themselves. It will keep them engaged with the activity.

“Challenge kids as often as you can, but you want to ensure success in what they’re doing to promote confidence, otherwise many children will give up rather than continue to progress,” says Altick. “Allow children to gain confidence by being able to be successful with skills and activities geared for them, so they are not constantly frustrated by activities that they simply cannot do.”

Continuity in curriculum also helps to give educators more insights into a child’s development, and allows them to speed up, slow down or otherwise modify curriculum per an individual’s needs. “Academics at all levels should give kids the support they need to do their best work not just now, but in subsequent years,” says Altick.

Surround Your Child with a Support System

Support is good, but a support system that truly understands the dynamics of the age group is better. That extends to teachers, coaches and all influential members of a child’s circle. Such a mentor can anticipate a child’s needs and understand how they think and feel because they’re knowledgeable about kids at that age. They can also help to reinforce positive feedback, attitudes and expectations in all areas of the child’s life.

Give Kids Opportunities to Do Things for Themselves and to Lead

Rotate line leaders at school and captains of the recess soccer team. Encourage kids to try out for a solo in their class concert or a part in the school play. Giving children an opportunity to experience success as well as setbacks teaches resilience. When kids learn how to redirect, cope and problem solve, that builds confidence and prepares them for the future.

Allowing kids to do for themselves what they can do gives them confidence when we, by our actions, say to them, “You’ve got this! I don’t need to help you with that; I have faith you can do it yourself.”

Provide One-on-One Attention

In classrooms, on sports teams and during extracurricular activities, the ability to work with children in a small setting has a big impact. “One of the virtues of a small school like ours is that every child matters,” says Altick. “We literally need them for school plays and other programs,” which creates a spirit of inclusivity, ensures participation and allows teachers to get to know each child on a personal level.

Create an Environment of Respect

When kids respect each other, and adults also treat kids with respect, it creates a safe environment for children to ask questions, speak out or even be wrong without fear of backlash.

“Confidence comes from an environment of character and integrity,” says Altick. “When there’s not judgment, people don’t feel bullied or less than; they feel like part of a community.”

Clearly Articulate Expectations

When given the proper tools to succeed, kids want to do their best. So, if they can do something for themselves, let them. Don’t be shy about doling out age-appropriate responsibilities. Just be sure to clearly lay out exactly what you expect, and why you know they are capable of completing the task.

Knowing what to expect creates a sense of security, which leads to confidence. Understanding family rules, school rules, sports rules and even social norms among peers helps children have the confidence to make well-informed decisions and act decisively, which can pay dividends when faced with peer pressure later on.

Set Realistic Goals and Create Accountability

Once those expectations are set, it’s important to follow through and hold children accountable. It teaches responsibility and shows faith that you know they can succeed. Altick provides this conversation template as an example: “I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t think you could. I have confidence in your ability to do what I asked.” Setting and adhering to reasonable goals shows kids how much they’re truly capable of.

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