Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent, you play an essential role in your child’s/teen’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship while building a sense of confidence in your children/teens that they can persist toward their goals and succeed in school and life.
Confidence simply means belief in self. But where does that belief come from? It begins with a trusting relationship you work to cultivate with your child/teen. That bond you have with your child/teen forms a solid foundation from which a child/teen can explore the world.
Children/teens ages 11-14 will need to build their social and emotional skills. In fact, as children/teens develop their social and emotional skills, they will also build their sense of confidence. So, as a parent, you can foster confidence through your relationship with your child/teen and by focusing your attention on helping your child/teen grow social and emotional skills. Confidence is…
- Self-awareness – your child’s/teen’s deepening sense of who they are, understanding their strengths and limitations.
- Self-management – your child/teen learning to manage their emotions constructively.
- Social awareness – your child’s/teen’s ability to see from another’s perspective and to empathize with others.
- Relationship skills – your child’s/teen’s capacity to initiate, grow, and sustain healthy relationships with parents, teachers, friends, and more.
- Responsible decision making – your child’s/teen’s ability to reflect before choosing words or actions on the consequences in order to not cause harm.
Yet, we all face challenges in building confidence. “I can’t do it!” your child/teen may exclaim in frustration over math homework. While children/teens may get frustrated and upset with themselves, mistakes and failures are a necessary part of their learning and development. Confident children/teens are not perfect. They simply know how to learn from their mistakes with your guidance and support. Mistakes do not define who they are.
The key to many parenting challenges, like building confidence, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s/teens’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s your eleven-year-old confiding in you that they don’t feel ready for fifth grade, your eighth grader crying that they have no real friends, or your fourteen-year-old hiding homework to avoid facing it, establishing regular ways to build a trusting connection along with teaching your child/teen vital skills will build confidence.
Today, in the short term, building confidence can create:
- greater opportunities for connection, cooperation, and enjoyment;
- trust in each other that we have the competence to manage our relationships and responsibilities; and
- a sense of wellbeing for a parent and child/teen with the motivation to engage and work hard to go along with it.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building confidence in your child/teen:
- develops a sense of safety, security, and a belief in self;
- builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your child/teen build confidence. It also builds important critical life skills in your child/teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child/Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child/teen thinking about building confidence by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your child’s/teen’s thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to how they feel when confronting challenges so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child/teen:
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership, comes a greater responsibility for solving their own problems);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership;
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their life; and
- will grow their self-control as well as problem-solving skills.
Consider what challenges your child’s/teen’s sense of confidence. Is it sports, school, making new friends, or keeping friends?
- Start exploring the issue by building from success and strengths! Consider together what your child/teen is working on at school.
- “Remember last year when you presented in front of the whole middle school? How did you feel at the start? In the middle? How did you feel when you finished and everyone applauded?”
- “What helped you get through that learning challenge?”
- What if your child/teen is feeling insecure in his or her friendships? Ask key questions first about that specific issue to really understand what’s challenging your child/teen.
- “I know there’s a lot going on this year with your friends. Tell me a little bit about what some of the struggles are.”
- “I’ve noticed you talk about this particular friend a lot. What makes her such a good friend to you? What do you appreciate about her?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that children/teens are learning to perform everyday, typical tasks along with learning about school subjects and how to be a good friend. Because of all of this learning, your child/teen will make mistakes and poor choices. How we handle those moments can determine how we help build their confidence. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent better understand what their child/teen is going through. Here are some examples:
- Eleven-year-olds are better able to see from another person’s perspective. They also increase their worries about being liked and may engage in excluding others in order to gain popularity.
- Twelve-year-olds may feel more confident. They’ll seek out risks, and peers will exert pressure and also support.
- Thirteen-year-olds can have worries related to their newly acquired body changes. They can be highly sensitive as they work to define their independent identity while still being dependent upon you. They may feel an ever greater sense of peer pressure.
- Fourteen-year-olds may act like they know it “all.” Despite this, they still look to adults to set boundaries. They are gaining interest in others as romantic partners and will have crushes, broken hearts, and worries related to the world of relationships.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child/teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see promoting skills and preventing problems.
- Cultivate a learning mindset. In addition to cultivating these essential skills that lead your children/teens to feel confident, there are beliefs and attitudes that parents can promote to contribute to your child’s/teen’s belief in themselves. For example, when your child/teen says “This is dumb!” and you know your child/teen means “I can’t do it!” respond with:
- “I know things can feel really frustrating when you first start.”
- “I’m going to hang in there with you while you get through the challenging part.”
- “You can learn anything with time, practice, and hard work.”
- “You can meet or overcome any challenge with time, practice, and hard work.”
- “Remember that time you did do it even when you thought you couldn’t.”
- Model having a learning mindset by demonstrating curiosity and a willingness to learn from your child/teen. For example, if your child/teen says “The kids are horrible at school!” you can respond with:
- “Sometimes what your friends do feels like it makes no sense. How do you wish they would behave?”
- “You know how to be a good friend (share specific examples). Your classmates will want to be friends with you because of the ways you are a good friend.”
Or for example, if your child/teen says “You just don’t get it!” you can respond:
- “I know it seems like I just don’t understand. I really want to make sure I do, though. So, tell me one more time so I can really get it.”
- Teach coping strategies for frustration and other distressing emotions.
- Brainstorm a list of possible ways to cope with upset, stress, or disappointment such as taking deep breaths, drawing, stretching, counting to 50, and more.
- Post the list in a visible location to refer back to it when needed.
- Talk with your child/teen about superheroes or people that they admire. Ask: “What qualities do they have? What gives them the confidence to engage in any situation? What qualities do you already have?”
- Teach your child/teen about self-talk. Though adults are aware of the voices playing regularly in their heads, your child/teen is likely not even though they are influenced by them. Raise their awareness.
- Look for a moment when you notice your child/teen is telling themselves a negative message like “I’m just not good at this.”
- Use reflective listening for the unspoken message such as, “I can see that you are telling yourself you’re just not good at this.”
- “Unfortunately, telling yourself you can’t do it can hurt your chance of meeting your goal.”
- “How can we turn that message around to help you?”
- Ask and invite your child/teen to think about how to reframe that self-talk.
- Reinforce your child’s/teen’s response if it’s positive or provide ways to frame thinking in the positive such as, “I know if I work hard at this, I can figure it out.”
- Practice the new language together.
- Look for a moment when you notice your child/teen is telling themselves a negative message like “I’m just not good at this.”
Don’t fix your child’s/teen’s mistakes. If you spot errors on their homework, unless your child/teen invites your support and input, leave it and allow your child/teen to learn from those mistakes.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your child/teen to practice new vital skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child/teen will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child/teen works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themselves.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s/teen’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- Allow your child/teen the chance to take steps to meet their big challenges, taking responsibility for their own tasks or relationships – even when you know you could do it faster and better.
Talk with your child/teen about what makes them feel confident and what takes away from their confidence. Share your responses as well as the skills you use when you don’t feel confident.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s/Teen’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child/teen how to meet their challenges with skill and persistence and you are allowing them to practice it so they can learn how to do those new tasks well and independently. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child/teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
By providing support, you are reinforcing their ability to be successful, helping them grow cause and effect thinking (as they address problems and failures), and helping them grow in taking responsibility.
- Initially, your child/teen may need active support. Use “I’d love to see…” or “What do you need…?” statements and ask them to demonstrate how they can work hard toward a goal or have the confidence to take a healthy risk. You could say, “Before you go up in front of the class to solve a math problem on the board, what will you say to yourself to stay calm and confident?”
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you looked directly at your teacher when answering the question she asked,” or “I noticed you opted for a more challenging assignment. Great work!”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your child/teen is frustrated or feeling incapable, proactively remind your child/teen of their strength. You could say: “I know this is a challenging space for you, and I have all the faith in the world that you will make it through.”
- Actively reflect on how your child/teen is feeling when approaching challenges. You can ask questions like:
- “How are you feeling about your final assignment at school?” Be sure to brainstorm ways your child/teen can find support.
- “Seems like you got frustrated with your homework and just stopped. Did your teacher mention that your homework was incomplete?” Be sure to reflect on outcomes of their choices.
Don’t move on or nag. Children/teens often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal that they aren’t sure they can reach. Be sure to wait long enough for your child/teen to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to do what you need them to do.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
Though adults tend to forget, your attention is your child’s/teen’s sweetest reward. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and business of getting tasks accomplished in family life. But if your child/teen is working hard to persist toward academic or friendship goals, it will be worth your while to recognize it. After all, your recognition can go a long way to promoting more of the same positive behaviors and expanding your child’s/teen’s sense of competence and responsibility. You can add to your child’s/teen’s motivation to work hard with the following actions.
- Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When your child/teen demonstrates confidence, for example, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed: “I notice you helped out your friend by reading the instructions together and figuring it out. Even though you weren’t completely sure of yourself, you pushed through. Yes! Excellent.”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments – like a fear or insecurity to go away – in order to recognize effort. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child/teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, if your child tackles increasingly challenging math homework when you know they are dreading it, recognize their effort. Include hugs, high fives, and fist bumps in your repertoire of ways to appreciate one another.
Avoid gifts or other physical rewards for performance. These actually have a de-motivating effect on children/teens. When you remove the money or extra screen time, for example, have they internalized the skills and also the sense of responsibility for performing them? There’s less of a chance if you’ve offered a “bribe.” Focus on your attention as the best reward. This is an essential strategy in discipline for skill building.
Be specific. “Good job” seems to not carry much meaning. However, a specific compliment about a pointed behavior – “you kept working until you figured it out; love seeing that!” – can promote more of the same.
If you focus only on outcomes – “You got your homework finished” – you miss the chance to influence the process. Instead, try something like “You got started on time, took a brain break, and returned with focus to finish your work – nice!”
Engaging in these fives steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child/teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children/teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.