Listen to an audio file of this tool.
Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your teen’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-teen relationship while building a sense of confidence in your 16-year-old teen that they can work toward their goals and succeed in school and life.
Confidence simply means belief in self. But, from where does that belief come? It begins with a trusting relationship you work to cultivate with your teen. That bond you have with your teen forms a solid foundation from which a teen can explore the world.
As teens develop their social and emotional skills, they also build their sense of confidence. As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you can foster confidence through your relationship with your teen and by focusing your attention on helping your teen grow social and emotional skills. Confidence is:
- Self-awareness: your teen’s deepening sense of who they are, understanding their strengths and limitations.
- Self-management: your teen’s ability to manage their emotions constructively.
- Social awareness: your teen’s ability to see from another’s perspective and to empathize with others.
- Relationship skills: your teen’s ability to initiate, grow, and sustain healthy relationships with parents, teachers, friends and more.
- Responsible decision making: your teen’s ability to reflect before choosing words or actions on the consequences in order to not cause harm.
Yet, everyone faces challenges in building confidence. “I can’t do it!” your teen may exclaim in frustration over a big school assignment. While they may get frustrated and upset with themselves, mistakes and even failures are a necessary part of their learning and development. Confident teens aren’t 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 teen’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s your fifteen-year-old confiding in you that they are scared learning to drive, your seventeen-year-old in high school crying that they have no real friends, or your nineteen-year-old avoiding the pile of college applications, establishing regular ways to build a trusting connection along with teaching your 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; and
- a sense of wellbeing and motivation to engage.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building confidence in your 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.
Five Steps For Building Confidence
This five-step process helps you and your teen build confidence. It also builds important critical life skills. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Intentional communication and actively building a healthy parenting relationship will support these steps.
Step 1. Get Your Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your teen thinking about building confidence by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your 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 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 teen’s sense of confidence. Is it sports, school, making friends, or keeping friends?
- Explore the issue by building from success and strengths! Consider together what your teen is working on at school.
- “Remember last year when you had to write your first research paper? How did you feel at the start? In the middle? How did you feel when you finished and the teacher liked it?”
- “What helped you get through that learning challenge?”
- If your teen is feeling insecure in making or keeping friends, ask key questions first about that specific issue to really understand what’s challenging for your teen.
- “How can you start up a conversation with a classmate?”
- “What does a good friend say and do?”
- “How can you act in ways that will be a good friend to others?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills By Interactive Modeling
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, it’s easy to forget that 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 teen will make mistakes and poor choices. How you handle those moments can determine how you help build their confidence. Learning about developmental milestones can help you better understand what your teen is experiencing. Here are some examples:
- Fifteen-year-olds are in the final year of major physical changes and may feel a bit insecure and sensitive to criticism. They may be preoccupied with peer interactions. Academic goals are less important than socializing but still important. Teens may fear failure in front of their peers and may seek to avoid certain projects.
- Sixteen-year-olds may feel more confident. They may have new goals outside of school, and along with them, worries related to learning to drive, getting a new part-time job, or trying out a romantic partnership. All these are critical steps in their exploration of adult life.
- Seventeen-year-olds may become highly focused on their academic and life goals as they consider the fact that their graduation is coming. At times, they may act overly confident, while at other times, they might resort to behaviors from earlier years.
- Eighteen and nineteen-year-olds are now considered emerging adults gaining the ability to vote. Many will be entering college.They may leave some friendships behind as peers make different decisions for their future. They may also be attempting to make new friends. At times they may exude confidence, while at other times they may feel highly insecure and run to you needing comfort and security.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your 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 teens to feel confident, there are beliefs and attitudes that you can promote to contribute to your teen’s belief in themself.
- For example, when your teen says “I can’t do it!” respond with:
- “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.”
- Or, if your teen says “no one likes me,” you can respond with “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, if your teen says, “You hate me!” or “You don’t care!” you can respond with “I always love you. I always care no matter what. Sometimes your choices upset me, but my love never changes.”
- For example, when your teen says “I can’t do it!” respond with:
- Teach your teen about self talk. Although adults are aware of the voices playing regularly in their heads, your teen is not, though they are influenced by them. Raise their awareness.
- Look for a moment when you notice your teen is telling themselves a negative message like “I can’t do it.” Use reflective listening for the unspoken message such as, “I can see that you are telling yourself you can’t do it, is that right? 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 teen to think about how to reframe that self talk.
- Reinforce your 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.
- Provide specific feedback when you see your teen using that new language using “I notice…” statements.
- Together, seek opportunities to expose your teen to new things through volunteer time.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your teen to practice vital new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your teen will improve over time if you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your teen works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themself.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy — a 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 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.
- Be sure to consider how you can create the conditions to support their success.
- Talk with your 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 Teen’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your 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. You can offer support when it’s needed. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their 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 teen may need active support. Use “I’d love to see…” statements and ask them to demonstrate how they can work hard toward a goal. When a teen learns a new skill, they are eager to show it off! “I’d love to see how you speak constructively with your teacher about your concerns.”
- Don’t move on quickly if your teen shows interest in trying something new. Teens often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal. Be sure to wait long enough for your teen to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to gain skills over time.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I notice how you took a brain break and then got back to your homework — that’s smart!”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your teen is frustrated or feeling incapable, proactively remind your teen of their strength. In a gentle, non-public way, you can whisper in their ear, “Remember how you introduced yourself last week to a new friend? How can you use that experience here?”
- Actively reflect on how your teen is feeling when approaching challenges. You can ask questions like:
- “How are you feeling about your free time at school?” Offering a chance to talk about lunch and breaks gives insight into your teen’s social challenges.
- “Seems like you got frustrated with your homework and just stopped. Did your teacher mention that your homework was incomplete?”
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.
If your teen is working to grow their skills – even in small ways – it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way in promoting positive behaviors and expanding your teen’s self-esteem and confidence. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
You can recognize your teen’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You started cleaning up the dishes; love seeing that!” – can promote more of the same.
Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying, “If you keep your room clean, you can have some of your friend’s over this weekend” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You have been keeping your room clean; I really appreciate that!”
- 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. For example: “I noticed you spent extra time practicing today. 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 teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, if your teen talks to a new classmate, offer your house for a game night. If your teen tackles math homework when you know they are dreading it, recognize their effort. Include hugs, high fives, and fist bumps as ways to appreciate one another.
Engaging in these five 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 teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for 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.