How Parents Can Help Their Child Build Self-Confidence

superkidSelf-confidence is a worthwhile goal for parents to hold for their kids, and while parents are right to think they can have an impact on their kids’ developing self-confidence, there are two widespread misconceptions that can stand in the way of that:

Misconception # 1. People are either confident or insecure. In reality, very few people feel good (or bad) about themselves in every area of life. A child who feels confident in her social abilities, for example, might feel insecure about her athletic or musical ability.

Misconception # 2. Praise helps people feel confident. In fact, hollow praise actually diminishes a person’s self-esteem. A strong sense of self is built on feeling genuinely competent in areas that matter to the individual, whether sports, painting, academics, social popularity, or something else.

Not everyone is skilled at everything they do, of course, and certainly not right at the beginning. Sometimes what’s required is more effort, guidance, or assistance. A child’s lack of self-confidence can indicate problems with goal-setting, such as figuring out what he wants to invest his energy in, or persistence, which involves staying engaged with a pursuit long enough to have fulfilling and confidence-building experiences.

Here are some practical tips for parents who want to help their child or teenager develop self-confidence:

  1. Unique ability profile. Encourage your child to appreciate her uniqueness—what comes easily, and also what’s harder for her to learn—and to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Incremental learning. Celebrate the small steps, and help your child see how those steps are required for larger achievements. Say ‘I admire  how you stayed with that picture. Those flowers make me feel happy when I look at them.’ Not, ‘You’re just like me, not very good at painting,’ or, ‘You’re a terrific artist!’
  3. Engagement. Help your child discover learning opportunities in his areas of interest. His confidence will build through experiencing activities he enjoys.
  4. Availability, especially through change. Be available to encourage your child as she considers her options, reviews her goals, and adjusts her efforts to adapt to changing demands and circumstances.
  5. Growth mindset. Show your child how to face setbacks with a positive mindset, seeing difficulties as ways to learn, not as insurmountable obstacles. Help him understand that everyone experiences problems during the course of learning anything that’s worth learning, and encourage him to take pride in overcoming hurdles.

Working together with children and adolescents to bolster their self-confidence will stand them in good stead at the outset of the school year, during the months that follow, and beyond.

For additional information on this topic and more see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014), and visit the authors’ website at for articles, blogs and resources.

For more on this topic:

Aamodt & Wang, (2012). Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. London: Bloomsbury.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. 

Foster, J. F. (2015). Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. Tuscon: Great Potential Press. 

diverse learning needs

Meeting Diverse Learning Needs: How Parents Can Work toward Changing a Good School to a Great School for All Kids

diverse learning needs

When a school is already doing a great job with their kids, parents are generally satisfied. However, when change is needed—as in the case of moving toward meeting diverse learning needs—things can get rocky. It’s human to resist change, or feel threatened by it, or believe that a new practice or perspective will disrupt what’s already working very well.

With a visionary school leader, however, working with a team of teachers and parents, a school can make the transition from excellence for most to excellence for all, including meeting the learning needs of children who learn differently for reasons of attention or other kinds of learning problems.  Read more

Current Events as Learning Opportunities

Week after week, fears and frustrations are the lead stories in the news. How can parents (and teachers) use these disturbing events productively to help children better understand the world they live in, and cope with a time of disruption?

Children—as with adults—can find it difficult to deal with the anxieties attendant on society being in a state of change. Kids can feel confused or apprehensive, and many will want to know more about upheavals occurring both near and far. By engaging them in discussions about current events, and answering their questions in ways that make sense to them, we can help demystify the happenings they’re hearing about. We can share our thoughts, listen to their concerns and, most importantly, use these authentic experiences to stimulate their curiosity and further learning. Parents can see current events as gateways to meaningful learning about history—and life.

As we see it, parents (like teachers) have a responsibility to help children understand what’s going on, so they’re able to make intelligent sense of events and concerns, and to put them into a context that is productive rather than troubling. They can help their children and adolescents understand the tensions that underlie the movements and drive the passions, showing them links to previous times and circumstances in history, and engaging them in discussions of what might happen next. We can encourage young people to consider how current events might connect with their own lives, and teach them how to ask questions in order to find out more about what’s relevant, or true, or surprising, or unnerving.

Children and Change: Perspectives, Implications, and Strategies

In January we think about change, and wonder how the year will unfold. Here are some guidelines parents can use to help kids welcome and benefit from changes that may occur—and especially changes that might take place in school settings.  

It’s hard for parents to foresee what might transpire in a child’s life as a direct result of changes, whether they occur at school or elsewhere. Change can happen any time, and it can be big or little, expected or unexpected, painstakingly slow or lightening fast. Moreover, change affects kids in different ways. In order for parents to promote and ensure positive change-related experiences for their children, it helps to be familiar with possible implications, and with some strategies for supporting change processes. Here are some basic guidelines.

Understanding Change

“Change can be _________. “ Fill in the blank.  Perhaps you’re thinking exciting or scary, or inspirational. There are countless possibilities. Descriptors will vary from one person to the next, and will depend on context, and on how an individual feels about previous change experiences. Parents who recognize and appreciate the complexities of change, and who take time to reflect upon the causes and consequences, set the tone for good development opportunities for their children. There’s no doubt that we live in an ever-changing world. Successful change entails planning, preparation, and commitment—as well as adaption.

Helping Children Adjust to Change

It’s not productive to avoid or fear change. It’s far better to be open-minded and welcome it. Help kids develop confidence, resilience, and enthusiasm by modeling a growth mindset. This means showing them how to accept change by seeing it in a positive light, anticipating what might possibly lie ahead, and setting a sensible course. These steps will serve to reduce or eliminate apprehension and ensure a smooth transition. Offer children information about change, including the reasons for it and what will likely occur as a result, and provide encouragement, guidance, and support as needed. Think through the potential academic, social, and emotional implications. If change is apt to be unsettling in one or more areas, it’s especially important to be available, to listen carefully to what your child has to say, to talk about it together, and to be amenable to considerations such as adjusting the pace, extent, or nature of the change process.

Educational Change

Change is inevitable. But for now, let’s focus on school-related change. For example, the status quo at your child’s school may be shifting as children’s individual needs are identified and addressed, as educational policies are revisited, and as teaching practices and learning opportunities are extended. There may be program modifications, technological advances, innovative modes of instruction, or new learning environments. Naturally, parents hope that any such changes their kids encounter at school will be appropriate, timely, and productive. Teaching children about flexibility and patience can help pave the way for them to cope more effectively with ups and downs. Although many changes in schools are quite seamless, this is not always the case. Work together with teachers, and stay attuned to your child’s feelings. This will help mitigate problems in the event that a change experience becomes intimidating, impractical, difficult, or disruptive.

A Brief Checklist for Supporting Change at School

Parents who seek to support their children during times of change might want to think about the following tips:

  • Take careful stock of the nature and extent of the change, and the reasons for it. Consider the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it—and inform your child in ways he can comprehend. Knowledge is empowering.
  • Try and work out what the implications of the change might be, in particular with respect to your child’s reactions and comfort level, taking into account his past experiences, and resilience in similar kinds of circumstances.
  • Check out the availability of support services at school and within the community, including people involved in planning and implementing the change, and those who might be able to provide measures of support.
  • Determine if the complexity of the change might call for some refinement so as to be more accommodating of your child’s individual needs, or to offset any potential adjustment issues you might foresee or observe.
  • Take a deep breath. There’s a lot to be said for time and patience.
  • Read stories together and talk about positive change, about others who’ve prevailed during transitions, and about how to acquire a growth mindset—all of which will contribute to a strong foundation for developing adaptability.
  • Consider outside or unexpected factors and influences that may have a bearing on a change process. Pay attention to these as they arise, and encourage your child to do likewise.
  • Be mindful. If it becomes apparent that your child needs increased support, encouragement, or coping strategies, get professional help.

Of Relevance

When all is said and done, there’s little to be gained from pointless change. Relevance is a key component. For example, a meaningful change initiative might have to do with creating a better fit between your child and the school system, and it could involve different instructional materials, classroom placement, teaching methods, or learning activities. Share understandings such as these. When a change is in the works, talk it through with your child. And remember, change is likely to be more successful if it evolves from negotiation and cooperation among all parties. So be flexible, thoughtful, and collaborative, as you help your child navigate in new directions—now, and in the months ahead.