Confidence: What It Is and How to Build It in Children & Teens

Confidence: What It Is and How to Build It in Children & Teens

Has your child or student ever asked you, “What is confidence?” Were you able to explain it in a way they could understand? We often talk about the importance of confidence but it’s sometimes difficult to articulate a clear, actionable definition.

So, what exactly is confidence? And how can we help children understand confidence and integrate it into their lives?

What Is Confidence?

Confidence is the belief you are capable. It means viewing mistakes as learning opportunities, saying “I can” instead of “I can’t,” and believing you can face life’s challenges and succeed.

What is confidence

When defining confidence, it is also helpful to speak about what confidence is not. Confidence is not:

  • Being arrogant or thinking you are better than others.
  • Getting it right every time; being perfect.
  • Burying your emotions; pretending you are never nervous or scared.
  • A constant—everyone has moments they don’t feel confident and that’s okay!

How to Help Children Understand Confidence

There are many strategies you can use to build a child’s confidence. But how can you help a child consciously understand what confidence looks and feels like? Try the helpful tips below!

How to Help Children Understand Confidence

Explain confidence in child-friendly language

Start by explaining confidence using child-friendly language. For instance, say, “Confidence is when you believe you can do something, even if it’s difficult.” Or, “Being confident means you’re brave enough to try new things and to keep going after you make a mistake.”

It is also helpful to give examples, especially from the child’s own life. Think of a time the child was confident enough to try a challenging task, learn from a mistake, or face a fear (for example, speaking in front of the class or joining a new soccer team).

Model confidence

The best way for a child to understand and emulate confidence is to spend time with confident adults. If your confidence needs a boost, focus on building your own confidence first. It’s not a process that will happen overnight but start by avoiding self-critical comments in front of your children or students.

Practice positive self-talk, surround yourself with positive people and stop comparing yourself to others. Treat yourself with kindness and take care of your physical and mental health. Face your fears and try new hobbies and reflect on your achievements, strengths, and talents.

When you can do this confidence-building work for yourself, you’ll find it much easier to help children do the same. You will naturally teach confidence through both modeling and direct interactions with the children in your life.

As soon as you trust yourself

Identify examples of confidence in books and movies

Book and movie examples are another way to help children learn an abstract concept. Check out our list of growth mindset movies for many films that demonstrate confidence. These films are all about pursuing your dreams, overcoming obstacles, and never giving up.

A few books to teach confidence include:

When you watch or read with children, ask them what lessons they learned about confidence. Have them write down and/or illustrate favorite quotes or moments, then hang them in your home or classroom. Refer to their favorite confidence movies or books when a reminder about confidence is needed!

Enlarge child's world

Recognize and celebrate confidence

When children demonstrate confidence, make sure to recognize and celebrate it! Demonstrating confidence can include trying something new, showing effort and persistence, and having a positive attitude about making mistakes.

These celebrations can be as simple as, “High five! You stuck with it! That took a lot of confidence,” or, “You were confident enough to try something brand new, good job!” Use variations of self-confidence affirmations too, like, “Look at you! You can do hard things!”

Confident to start something new

Talk about how it feels to practice confidence

Finally, help children recognize the value of confidence by discussing how it feels to practice it. What are the results of approaching life challenges and situations with confidence?

When children show bravery, persistence, and the ability to overcome mistakes, ask them how the experience felt. Were they proud? Happy? Excited? Even more confident than before? Explain how the more we practice confidence, the more confident we become.

How to Help Teens Build Confidence

Even children who understand and practice confidence may begin to struggle in their teens. The teen years are filled with challenges, change, and comparison. We have a full article on how to help teens build confidence, but here is an overview of some of our top tips:

  • Make it clear to your teen they are loved unconditionally. Your love is not dependent on their grades, talent, or behavior.
  • Have open conversations about failure and mistakes. Don’t shield your teen from failure or panic when mistakes are made.
  • Celebrate growth, perseverance, hard work, and effort. Focus not only on positive outcomes but also on the process of reaching them.
  • Help teens gain new and missing skills and discover their passions and talents.
  • Teach teens about assertiveness and boundaries. Remind them they are not a bad person for moving on from toxic friendships or relationships or for refusing to tolerate hurtful behavior from others.
  • Create a safe space for your teen to speak about difficult situations. Listen and offer compassion. Engage teens in the process of solving their problems rather than simply telling them the answer.
  • Embrace a growth mindset in your home and model the confidence you would want your teen to have!
Big Life Journal Teen Edition

    How to help teens build confidence

    More Confidence Resources

    This article includes many ideas and resources for helping children and teens answer the question, “What is confidence?” Here are additional resources to help young people build and practice confidence in their daily lives:

    Confidence & Self-Esteem Kit

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