Parents and caregivers have a huge role to play in helping to develop and nurture confidence of the child in their care. While this nurturing can begin at the youngest ages, if confidence is still a challenge by the time a child reaches pre-teen years, it’s never too late to help instill a sense of confidence.
How do you help develop the confidence of a 10 year old child? While many parents and caregivers default to giving lots of praise as a primary way to build a child’s confidence, that’s not really the best option and can have detrimental effects if it remains the main focus. Rather than praising a child’s activities or outcomes, offer encouragement for their efforts. Also, encourage them to complete what they start, and practice taking a step back to allow the child as much independence as possible to learn from their own mistakes, safely. Once s/he experiences small independent successes for their own efforts, confidence begins to build with each success.
When researching the best ways to develop confidence in pre-teens, I found that much of what parents and caregivers do instinctually actually backfires. Praising a child is often thought to help boost their confidence. But too much praise (or praising the wrong thing), over time, can lead to a child linking confidence with their natural abilities or their outcomes, and thus actually developing their confidence remains lacking. What is most helping is when a child learns to enhance their confidence by achievement through their efforts – practice, and overcoming failures and challenges.
Confidence – and Why It Matters
Confidence is developed as a child believes in his or her own abilities. The foundation of building confidence is learning to self-trust. Confidence makes it easier for us to interact with others and form relationships, and as social creatures, this skills in necessary through adulthood. Confidence also helps us to learn new things and so enhances an attitude of embracing education throughout one’s life. Likewise, confidence also leads to a more optimistic attitude rather than living through a lens of self-doubt and pessimism, so confident individuals tend to live more fulfilling lives.
Big-picture Considerations for Enhancing Confidence in Pre-Teens
When considering how best to enhance confidence in pre-teens, there are a number of over-arching themes and mindsets that can help. Use the list below to develop a strategy and philosophy for how you can be most successful before trying the specific tips listed in the next section.
- Take a Step Back –When your child learns to complete a task without your intervention, it helps to build confidence. So step back and encourage your child to take risks, solve problems and overcome challenges, make choices, and finish what they start – despite any difficulties they may encounter.
- Refrain from Over-praising – Over-praising can backfire in building confidence. Praise on occasion is great (and helpful), but when you praise too much, you are actually lowering the bar for your child to learn to excel. Competence takes time and effort, so hold the praise until it has been earned. View praise as more of a reward for sticking with something until your child is truly successful at a given task or activity. Meanwhile, rather than praise, focus on encouragement.
- Allow Your Child to Take Safe and Healthy Risks – If you are stepping in to rescue your child from failure, s/he will not have the opportunity to explore various options – find out which may fail and which may succeed – and complete the task. Allow risks, as long as your child is making safe and healthy choices.
- Offer Freedom of Choices –When you offer your child age-appropriate choices, s/he learns to take responsibility for those choices (which improves confidence). Choosing clothing is a good example of this. Allow your child the choice to wear a jacket, gloves, hat, etc. If s/he chooses NOT to wear them, they learn to live with their choices. This helps them to be more independent (appropriately) and boosts confidence in his or her ability to stand by those choices.
- Provide Opportunities – Household chores are wonderful opportunities to allow your child to experience everyday successes. S/he can be responsible for making their own bed, helping to clean their bathroom, taking out the trash, or any other household chore that is age-appropriate. Taking responsibility for daily and weekly chores give your child an opportunity to experience success with learning responsibility.
- Encourage them to Explore and Pursue Passions – When your child shows interest in something – whether it’s learning a musical instrument or playing basketball – encourage them to actively pursue the interest. When your child is engaged in something they enjoy, and they learn to stick with it, they can get more enjoyment out of the success that comes with mastering the activity. This happens far more easily than with something like household chores, so balancing the fun and not-so-fun tasks in life is a well-rounded approach.
- Coach Rather than Control – Think about a sports or activity coach. The coach provides encouragement and support while the child engages in the activity. This is the mindset that will help boost your child’s confidence. So let go of controlling any outcomes and let your child learn to succeed by doing the task or activity independently – and therefore learning what works and what doesn’t to achieve the desired outcome.
- Perfection is Not the Goal – Allow imperfect results. If you are trying to “help” your child to improve the end result, you are actually robbing your child of the learning experience. Unless the end result is critical, allow whatever outcome your child achieves, and then if improvement is necessary, allow your child to discover ways they can improve their own results (without intervention).
- Describe and Empathize – Saying your child did a great job on something doesn’t really provide much opportunity to learn how to evaluate efforts. You can be more descriptive by stating what your child did (especially relating to the effort!) and how it might feel, such as “You worked hard on that project for days and finished it by the due date, even though it seemed to be challenging. That must feel really satisfying.”
- Encourage Efforts over Specific Outcomes – You want your child to focus on the effort of completing tasks and pursuing interest – not on any natural talent s/he may have. Rather than telling your child s/he is so smart or talented, instead talk about how wonderful it was that s/he worked so hard to achieve the desired result. When your child learns to keep trying, practicing and improving results, s/he learns that with perseverance, success eventually follows – regardless of how much or little “natural” talent may assist or detract along the way.
- Use Positive Self-Talk as a Model Your Child can Emulate – Kids learn by example. When kids hear you using disparaging remarks about your own challenges, they will likely follow suit. Model the encouraging behavior you want your child to adopt.
- How to Manage Failures and Pitfalls – Ensure your child knows your love is unconditional and is NOT tied to their report cards, winning the game, or any specific successful outcome. Your child needs to know that you love him or her regardless of how well or not-so-well s/he does at any particular task or activity.
Also, if your child is struggling with a successful outcome, take things a step down or back so that s/he can experience success at something easier before moving on to the more difficult challenge. For example, if a particular reading level is proving too difficult and your child seems to be struggling and getting too frustrated, try spending time on an easier reading level. Wait until that has been mastered and your child can experience success at that level before moving to a more difficult one.
- Communicate about Feelings –If your child is feeling frustrated, rather than removing the frustration, empathize and allow your child to work through their frustration. Talk it through and allow your child to express his or her feelings. Remember that it’s okay for your child to experience frustration, disappointment, and negative feelings. With your understanding and empathy, s/he will manage the feelings and then be ready to move forward in a more productive way.
Specific Tips and Activities to Help Boost Confidence in Pre-Teens
Once you have an idea of the big picture strategy, the specific tips below can offer direction about what to do next.
- Include Time for Play – Spend some dedicated time playing with your child, and offer them your full attention. Playing together is a bonding experience and lets your child know s/he is valuable and worthy of your undivided attention. You can play cards, a board game, sports, swimming, whatever sounds fun for you both. Be silly together. Dance and sing together. Just spend some quality time “playing” in some capacity, which is healthy and fun for kids and adults of all ages!
- Give Small Manageable Jobs –Small jobs help your child experience small successes. Whether you ask them to set the table, help prepare dinner, or organize a drawer or closet, these task helps you child to build confidence and feel valuable. And be sure to let your child know how much their help is appreciated.
- Give Your Attention – As parents and caregivers, we’re often so busy that we give our child distracted attention. When your child wants to talk, give him or her your undivided attention. Make eye contact and stop other activities long enough for a conversation. If it’s not a good time, choose a better time when you can truly listen so that your child feels heard.
If your child feels s/he is not worth your attention, over time, it will lessen confidence and self-esteem. So make the time to be present with your child regularly. Your child needs to know that their thoughts, opinions, and ideas matter. Express your feelings so that your child learns it is okay and actually healthy and productive to talk about feelings.
- Invent a Recipe –Find a recipe your child can use as a “base” to modify to create their own. Let him or her choose whatever ingredients are on hand (even if you don’t think they’d taste good!), and allow for experimentation. Mistakes are welcome in this activity.
This helps your child to view mistakes as learning opportunities rather than as failures. Once you’ve tasted the result, ask your child for his or her opinion. Then ask what they might have done differently. Set up a time to try it again with further experimentation until your child feels their recipe is a “success” (by his or her standards).
- Packing for a Trip – If your family is going on vacation, or your child is going to camp, or to a sleep-over, allow him or her to plan and pack their own bag. If something seems to be missing, rather than pointing it out directly, ask leading questions.
One example is “do you think you have everything you need for the game?” and if they’re missing a ball cap or glove and don’t notice, ask additional questions. “Think about what you usually bring to a game – do you have all of those items?” and keep leading until your child thinks through the items needed and packs them independently. You can encourage him or her to start with writing a list and then checking each item off as it’s packed.
- Prepare and Serve a Snack or Meal – This is a great multi-step activity beyond creating a single recipe. Ask your child to prepare and serve either a snack for a group of kids or a family meal. This activity allows your child to think through and plan what to serve, what ingredients are needed, preparing the food, setting the table, and experiencing success at the end (or areas that need improvement that can be gained with practice).
Provide encouragement along the way for each of the activities you choose to help your child boost his or her confidence. And remember to focus on the sustained effort rather than the outcome. Once your child gets used to completing things that s/he starts, success will eventually follow. And with each success, confidence builds – it simply takes time and practice.