How to Build Confidence in Kids

Michele Meleen
Happy, confident girl with arms outstretched

Confidence is not a trait every child is born with, but through life experiences kids develop the sense they can accomplish things on their own. If you've got a child with low self-confidence or are a proactive parent, teacher, or coach hoping to shape confidence from an early age, these actions can make a big difference.

Offer Specific Praise

Telling kids they're doing something right or well helps them feel loved and valuable. However, generic statements like "great job," aren't really valuable in developing confidence. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Beverly Hubbard Smolyansky says praise and words of encouragement should be specific and focus on a child's effort or their process to boost confidence and self-esteem.

Forget about the end result, what did your child do well along the journey? If she has a great plan, say that. If he clearly tried really hard, say that. Use language that conveys to your child he did a specific thing really well even if the desired end result wasn't achieved.

Challenge Children

Former preschool teacher, Liz Greene suggests self-confidence is built through a child's own accomplishments, not the praise or encouragement of others alone. This means parents and coaches should aim to engage children in tasks that may not be easy. Take care not to go too far and offer challenges that are impossible. If you have a desired task in mind, like setting the table, even toddlers and preschoolers can help with putting napkins or silverware on the table. Take this activity one step further and give your kid the chance to carry your drink to the table.

Avoid Child Comparisons

Whether it's two kids on the same team or siblings, comparing one child to another is a recipe for low self-confidence in one of those kids. Every person is a unique individual with unique life experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. The Child Mind Institute suggests talking about how two people are different rather than how one is better than the other. Explain comparisons can never be accurate because no two people are exactly the same. While one kid might have great reading skills, another of the same age could struggle with reading and excel at math.

Provide a Variety of Role Models

Being a good role model for kids gives them a concrete example to look at in terms of what confidence looks like. However, by showing boys and girls non-typical role models, you show them they can be respected for their unique talents, says a panel for the Child Mind Institute. Ask your son to watch a show that includes male dancers or take him to a gallery opening for a male artist. Take your daughter to see a superhero movie with a female lead or watch an engineering demonstration by a female engineer.

Group of people in different careers

Share Feelings

Children's expert Dr. Sears says the goal in building confidence through emotions is to strike a balance between safe outlets for sharing feelings and controlling them. When a child experiences happiness, sadness, anger, or any other emotion, adults should be available to either enjoy the moment in the case of happiness or provide support in working through tougher feelings. During times kids aren't experiencing high emotion, teach them strategies for respecting and controlling their feelings. For example, describe to the child what types of behaviors, like stomping, are acceptable during an angry outburst and which, like hitting, are not.

Teach Kids to Be Self-Advocates

According to The Pacer Center, teaching kids to self-advocate is an important part of building confidence. When children learn to communicate their own wants and needs to peers or adults, they feel powerful and capable. Teach your child to ask questions when clarification is needed and speak up for themselves in times they feel they aren't being heard. Talk with kids about limitations they might have, foods they should avoid, and their biggest strengths; then, have them practice explaining each.

Set Up Successful Experiences

When kids are young, it is important to set up experiences where they succeed in order to lay the foundation for confidence building. Dr. Laura Markham suggests kids gain confidence and resilience by experiencing failures followed by the opportunity to try again and succeed. For younger kids, start by demonstrating a task. If they don't succeed on their own the first time, offer to do it with them so they can still feel the joy of achieving a goal. You can offer guidance, tips, or help in little ways throughout the process, but kids only build confidence when they do the work themselves.

Tips for Long-Term Confidence

As kids grow and mature, they'll encounter new experiences and more difficult challenges physically, emotionally, and socially. Keep up with the actions discussed throughout their entire childhood, tweaking each to be appropriate for the child's developmental level.

Other ways you can encourage confidence that lasts include:

  • Staying engaged at every age.
  • Read up on child development at each stage of childhood.
  • Model confidence in yourself and your child no matter what.
    Mom helping tween son with homework

See Their Strength

As an influential adult in the lives of children, you've got many important jobs. Helping kids build and retain self-confidence prepares them for life as an adult. When you look at each child as a strong individual and see what skills they bring to the table, they will see it too.

How to Build Confidence in Kids