The key to self-confidence is knowing that you can do things, try things, complete things, and succeed at things. It means being okay with yourself if you fail. This is something that we can discuss with children, but they really only learn it through experience. They cannot develop self-confidence without a certain amount of independence and freedom to take initiative. When we throw a rock into a pond, we see the ripples it produces. Confidence comes from seeing the ripple effects of our actions. Positive or negative, we need to know that we have a real effect on the world around us. When there are positive effects, we need to feel appropriately proud, and when there are negative effects, we need to feel appropriate regret, but also comfortable that we will survive the disappointment.
Two of the biggest threats to self-confidence are praise and too much assistance. Disproportionate praise sets a counter-intuitive expectation that kids actually begin to feel they must meet. When we say “you’re so smart” or “you’re so beautiful,” they begin to believe that they have to be smart or beautiful next time, and the ideal they have to live up to becomes crushing. Secondly, as we touched on with independence, our assistance can send the message: “you cannot do this,” or “you are not good enough at this.” Even if we subtly remake their bed after they have made it, we are sending the message that they didn’t do it well enough. There are times when we want to send that message, but more often than not we send it inadvertently and they learn that their efforts are not worthwhile.
Unfortunately we cannot “give” kids self-confidence. They have to earn it or build it through their actions and repercussions. The good news is that if we give them the space to earn it, holding ourselves back a little, it will come pretty naturally for most kids!