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Keys to Building Confidence in Children

Just like kids, confidence comes in all shapes and sizes. As children develop, their confidence levels usually change. There will be times when children will appear more confident and other times when they doubt themselves, underestimate their abilities, or tend to err on the side of caution in unfamiliar or new situations.

Confidence can be generally defined as believing in our abilities to do something. Having confidence is having an “I can do it” attitude and a positive outlook to giving things a go. Our level of self-confidence is also linked to self-esteem and self-concept; the way we feel and think about ourselves.

There are a number of factors that can contribute to how much or little confidence a child may have. Some of these are based on a child’s genetic make-up such as their personality, temperament, and the rate and pace of their individual development. These factors generally shape the way children express their confidence.

Environmental and relationship factors have also been shown to play a powerful role in the development of a child’s confidence. These include:

  • Having positive parent-child relationships and family relationships
  • Having positive peer relationships
  • Parenting practices that set realistic expectations for their children, and foster a sense of positive self-esteem, competence and independence
  • The amount and quality of praise, encouragement and positive feedback given to children as they try to master new skills
  • Validating a child’s own thoughts or opinion about something, and allowing them to provide input into family or play decisions
  • Having lots of successful opportunities to practice and gain mastery in skills, tasks, and interactions in their daily lives.
  • A parents or siblings own level of confidence and general attitude to life may also influence how a child develops confidence within themselves. Exposure to a parents or siblings coping and thinking styles and may provide a modelling template for how the child may choose to think about themselves and their world around them.

Two factors that can contribute to a lack of confidence in children are:

1)     Lacking the skills to deal with or handle the situation

2)     Underestimating or doubting their true ability to achieve their desired goal


There are plenty of ways that you can assist your child to build more confidence. Today we share two parenting strategies:

  1. Your direct and indirect messages speak volumes in developing your child’s self-confidence.

Some children who lack confidence in their abilities to do certain things will tend to defer the task to someone else saying “I can’t do it”, or “you do it for me”. Sound familiar? One of the most powerful ways children can learn about their own abilities is to give them lots of opportunities to grapple with, practice and master the skill themselves. For example, take an age-appropriate skill such as a typical four year old being able to dress themselves. Four year old Joey lacks confidence in his daily life and tends to prefer parents to do a lot of tasks for him (many of which he is actually able to achieve himself, but insists Mum does for him). His mother Sam will often assist or even do the task for him, and states that there is often so much resistance to doing it himself that she finds it easier to just get on with it and do it for him. However, unfortunately by doing this, Sam is reinforcing the message to Joey that he requires help with this, and cannot do the task independently.

In addition, if this pattern is repeated enough and in different circumstances and contexts, parents actually begin to take away lots of great concrete opportunities for their child to learn through experience about their own abilities, the skill of persistence, and to experience success and delight in their own achievements, all of which are great ways to build a child’s self-esteem . Instead, if you believe your child has the capacity to do a task but prefers you to do it for them, first make sure they have the basic idea of what to do, then step back and encourage them to give it a go themselves. Provide encouragement and your own sense of confidence in their ability to achieve this, and don’t give in and do it for them!


  1. Learn to sit on your hands

When we are focusing on increasing a child’s skill set and ability to do things, it is important to allow children lots of space to be curious, explore, and grapple with their own attempts to master the task at hand. Making mistakes, trial and error, and experience are all part of the process of active learning. Have a look at the next time your child is trying to do something in your presence such as putting together a new unfamiliar game or toy. Do you find yourself getting in there straight away and coaching and assisting the child, perhaps even doing parts of it yourself to help them along? Or do you tend to bite your tongue, sit on your hands, sit back and provide the space, time and patience for your child to grapple with putting the parts of the toy together?

While your child’s brain is often trying to master a skill your adult brain has already mastered, don’t underestimate the power of learning through the experience. By allowing your child to actively problem-solve and persist with the task themselves, rather than jumping in when it gets too tricky for them, you provide an experience for them that is actually growing your child’s brain! Your child’s brain develops new neural pathways when they need to explore and create their own way of figuring something out, and this neural growth occurs much more this way than if someone just explains or shows a child what to do. So have a go at this strategy and you’ll be surprised at how quickly this parenting approach can assist your child to enhance their own independent skill set, and therefore confidence.

For more ideas on how to develop your child’s confidence why not speak to one of our psychologists who can help you to tailor strategies to suit your child’s own individual needs.


Author: Shannyn Wilson, Psychologist, Sensational Kids