Self-confidence and grit, a trending topic in today’s world. What do they mean and why is it important for children to develop skills that build these mindsets? Can these things be taught? The answer is yes. Yes, it is important and yes, we can help children develop the skills they need for self-confidence and grit. Here are some tips on how to build this mindset in your children.
1. Encouragement is key
Everyone needs a little encouragement once in a while. As a parent, you are the beginning of building your child’s confidence and inner voice that will help them be able to utilize positive self-talk in challenging situations. But what is self-confidence? Self-confidence is the attitude and acceptance of yourself, in your strengths and weaknesses. It is your ability to set realistic expectations, communicate and handle criticism.1 A confident person knows who they are, their values, and trusts their judgment. They are more likely to take smart risks and try opportunities outside of their comfort zone. Self-confidence allows you freedom from doubt and judgment about yourself. It gives you the ability to try new things and continue to grow. When encouraging a child to try something, focus on the journey not the outcome. The objective is for them to give it their personal best and be happy with their efforts.
If they are learning to ride a bike and fall, without the encouragement to get back on the bike and try again, they might never learn. Positive encouragement builds their confidence to try again even when the outcome isn’t what they wanted at first. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to raise them to fly. It’s our job to help them have the confidence to leave home, go out into the world and be a positive influence on all they meet and conquer any challenge that comes their way.
2. Focus on their strengths
Every one of us has strengths and weaknesses. Knowing our strengths and weakness can help us make decisions for the best outcome. Help your child focus on what makes them, them. Are they caring and gentle? Can they bring a smile to anyone’s face? Or maybe they are good at problem solving. Focusing on your child’s intrinsic traits has more value than on external traits. For example, the ability to be kind and gentle as opposed to be a good athlete. All are great traits, but being kind and gentle are personality, whereas being a great athlete is a physical trait. By focusing on what makes them a great person, you are encouraging a positive mindset and a child who will turn into a healthy, self-confident adult.
1 Pawel, Jody Johnston. “Help Your Child Develop Self‐Esteem.” Parenting Handout (2005).
3. Help them develop a sense of purpose
“Purpose comes from believing that the world needs improving and that you can help,” says William Damon, author of The Path of Purpose. According to Damon, “purpose is the number one, long-term motivator in life.” Opening up to regular dialogue and asking thoughtful questions such as, “What does it mean to be a good person? What kinds of things are important to you? How do you want to be remembered?” Teaching your child every day is a new opportunity to make a difference, encourages them to set goals and gives each day purposefulness.
4. Try New Things
You can sit on the sidelines or experience life. When a child is confident, they are not as afraid to try new things. There may be a hesitation, but they will be able to self-talk themselves into giving it a go. Trying new things broadens their experiences and helps them to develop confidence. It creates an I can do that attitude for anything in the future. Encouraging and helping your children get out of their comfort zone, eventually leads them to finding other passions in life. Trying new things, gives them opportunity to fail or succeed and teaches them how to handle either outcome. It sharpens and develops their interpersonal relationships as they expand their friendship base.
5. Cultivate a healthy mindset
What is a grit mind-set? It is a person’s ability to pick themselves back up and continue after a setback. Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait. Leading expert and University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as a “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way. It combines resilience, ambition, and self-control in the pursuit of goals that take months, years, or even decades.” 2
Put simply, someone with a grit mindset would believe they got a good grade in math because they studied hard whereas a fixed mindset would believe they got a good grade because they are simply good at math.
A growth mindset is one where the child is more resilient and has more grit. It is a perspective of not understanding something – yet. Parents can help foster a growth mindset by encouraging good study and work habits and a positive, “I can do” attitude. Successes should be celebrated especially if the effort was put forth. Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance talks more in depth of how a growth mindset builds grit.
2 Duckworth, Angela, and Angela Duckworth. Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. Vol. 234. New York, NY: Scribner, 2016.
3 Chesser-Smyth, Patricia. “How to build self-confidence.” Nursing Standard 27.52 (2013).
6. Allow them to fail
Children need past successes and failures. They need to know that they have the fortitude to get through this temporary challenge. Maybe it’s a breakup. The first time it happens to you, you are probably devastated. It’s the worst thing in the world. You get through it and may even forget about it. Then it happens again and now you have the first time to draw strength from. Knowing it will pass and you will be ok.
Failure can also lead to some amazing things. Discuss real life failures of people they can relate to and how they turned them into something positive. Talk about some of your failures and what you took from those mistakes. How did that outcome change your future? What did you do differently after that? Did that mistake lead to a new discovery? Did you learn something new about yourself? Children gain confidence when they look at life’s difficulties as challenges that can be addressed.
7. Not giving up and turning mistakes into learning experiences
Everyone makes mistakes. How we handle those mistakes is what matters. Take a moment to talk with your child about how it could have been handled differently and what are a few things they learned from the experience. Ask them open ended questions that encourage thoughtful responses. For example, what do you think would have happened if you had done it a different way? Would that have been a better way to go about it? Why/why not did you choose that way? Role playing conversations is also a great way to help your child to develop strategies to make good choices. It is non-threatening, encouraging, and fun. Above all, listen to them. Don’t make it a lecture or one-sided conversation. Help them understand that mistakes can be good learning experiences. It is what you take from your mistakes that can make them crippling or possibly lead to something amazing down the road. Life after all is a series of decisions and learning experiences.
8. Deliberate practice
Most of us are familiar with the phrase “practice makes perfect.” Well, this is not necessarily true. Practice leads to improvement. Improvement leads to excellence. Excellence allows growth, whereas perfection sets them up for failure. It is important to teach your child that nothing is perfect, but they can strive for excellence. By continuously putting effort into something and setting goals, they improve little by little. Help them understand the importance of practice and that in life, we never stop learning. Continuous learning fosters self-confidence as they master new skills.
9. Give clear feedback
When giving feedback, make it clear without using negative or judgmental words. Give concrete and constructive suggestions for improvement. Don’t demand but listen and try to understand what your child was feeling and thinking. Your tone and body language will play big roles in how they perceive what you are saying. Be open and make eye contact. Show your child they have your attention, and your feedback comes from a place of love, not judgment. You are not demanding them to do something a certain way, but instead guiding them to make the best decision for them.
We talked about trying new things, now let’s talk about how to teach your child not to just go from one thing to the next, just because they weren’t immediately “good” at something.
For example, your child joins a basketball team that only has a certain number of slots available. They’re not the greatest player and tend to sit on the bench a lot. Understandably, they’re frustrated they don’t get much time on the court. Three weeks in they don’t want to go to the practices anymore. “What’s the point if I don’t play?” Talk to them about the commitment they made to be on the team. Maybe there were a ton of other children who wanted the spot they have. By signing up, they made a commitment to the team to play for that season. That even though they don’t get much playing time, it is important for them to honor their commitment. They don’t have to sign up for the next season, but they do have to put their best foot forward for their coaches and teammates and finish out the season they signed up for.
11. Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings
Part of life and learning about yourself is understanding your feelings and what made you feel that way. Don’t be afraid of talking with your child about their feelings. Your empathy will be an important factor for them to overcome the situation. Don’t just jump in and remove the frustrating situation for them. For them to be able to cope later in life, build relationships and not be crippled by emotion, they need to be able to allow themselves to feel different things and learn how is best for them to handle it. Use phrases like, “I’m sorry this is so hard…” or “This is not how you hoped it would go…” If you disregard their feelings or show fear in talking about their emotions, they may suppress them which can lead to complications later in life. Your confidence in them will help them through the emotional process.
12. Positive self-talk
They say doubt is the one of the biggest reasons people don’t accomplish their dreams. Help your child understand that fear, discomfort, self-doubt are all natural feelings, but not to let them control your life. “I can” make a difference. “I will” work at getting better at this. “I am worthy.” “I am a good person.” All words and phrases that can help your child cope in difficult situations or get back up and try again after mistakes or failures.
One way to do this is by leading by example. Children are always watching and listening, even when we think they are not. The words you use to talk about and how you perceive yourself will show and they will pick up on those feelings for example, if you are constantly saying I am so ugly without makeup, they will perceive that as, without makeup, they too are ugly. Instead, try I enjoy makeup and that’s why I’ve chosen to wear it. Another common example is, I am so fat. Everyone’s bodies are different. Try something like, I am beautiful the way I am, but I would feel better if I could make some healthier decisions. Concentrate on the words you use and if they have a negative or judgmental connotation.
13. Helping and giving to others
Empathy is probably one of the most important attributes for a confident child. Empathy allows the child to see things through someone else’s eyes and feel how it feels to them. Having empathy fosters kindness. Having empathy, takes the ‘I or me” out of the equation and focuses on the other person. Children are born with empathy, as we have all witnessed when a small child will share a toy unsolicited. Whether it be helping at home or a service project, when children see what they do matters, their self-esteem and confidence grows. You don’t have to go far to lead by example. Empathy is something we can model for our children. Volunteer at a mission, shelter or anywhere that someone can use your help. Be a good neighbor. Help the older person get their trash out, visit them, shovel sidewalks. Say hi and wave when you see a neighbor outside or passing in their car. It’s the simplest thing. By this small gesture of acknowledgment, you are showing kindness and a good example of how to treat others. Give of yourself and two things will happen, the recipient will be happy, and your children will see you as heroes.
14. Be a positive role model
As adults, we sometimes feel we aren’t equipped to do something new or challenging. Most of what your child is experiencing at this point in their young life is new to them. At the end of the day, you are your child’s role model. Children watch and learn from the people around them. Having a positive attitude while doing tasks, putting your best foot forward and finding pride in your work, will show your child to do that too. How you view yourself and the world around you affects how your children view themselves and the world around them. To help them navigate through these times, we can share our concerns, self-doubt, strategies and how to self-talk yourself through it. Allowing your child to see this, shows them is natural to feel this way and it gives them valuable insight and reservoir when it’s their turn to feel doubtful. In an age-appropriate way, you can ask for their insights and problem-solve or brainstorm with them to attain a resolution.
15. Don’t Compare
It’s so easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves or others, especially when it is a sibling or close friend. As difficult as it is, do not compare your child to ANYONE, especially in a negative way. Help your child focus on what is positive about them. Avoid using words that compare, for example, “betterat” or “they’re not.” Instead, use words that address them directly, like their name or “you are.” Have them focus on themselves and not what makes them the same or different from another person. You can also have them practice this by saying, “I am.”
4 Harter, Susan. “Causes and consequences of low self-esteem in children and adolescents.” Self-esteem. Springer, Boston, MA, 1993. 87-116.
5 Park, Daeun, et al. “The development of grit and growth mindset during adolescence.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 198 (2020): 104889.
16. Stop controlling
In recent years, the terms, helicopter parent and lawnmower parent have become popular, especially in schools and sports situations. In case you’re not familiar with the terms, a helicopter parent “hovers”, around their child just like a helicopter hovers over the ground. They are there to carry gear, cheer on and generally take care of the child’s needs. Then came the “lawnmower” parent. They virtually pave the path for their child to be happy and experience no failures or sadness and run over anyone who gets in their way.
These two types of parents are robbing their children the opportunity to become self-confident young adults. By side-lining themselves, and encouraging their child to create their own path, they will be fostering happy, confident children. None of us want to see our child unhappy, disappointed, or hurt, but they do need to learn how to constructively cope with these feelings. As long as we try to protect them from life’s disappointments, their self-worth will be undermined.
17. Activities you can do at home
One great way to practice these skills, is doing activities at home. Your child doesn’t have to know you are teaching them valuable lessons. The activities can be fun and hands on.
- Does your child enjoy reading or telling stories? Then what better way to sharpen these skills than by creating your own story. Get some paper and markers, create your characters, and write your own book about perseverance. You can even read some of your favorite books to help draw inspiration. Story lines with everyday problems they might also encounter, will help them know what to do when are faced with them.
- Watch movies with characters that have to overcome obstacles. After the movie, discuss the steps the character took to solve his/her problem. Talk about what they think the meaning behind the movie was.
- Create a vision board or journal. Help your child pick achievable goals. Write down the steps that need to take place to achieve them. What is the timeline for each step? Be sure to set dates to achieve them by. Putting the vision board or journal somewhere your child will see it every day, is a great reminder of what their goals are and what they need to accomplish next to get there.
- Play a game and play by the rules. Playing games are fun but can sometimes be frustrating. Doing this together is an opportunity to practice patience, good sportsmanship, problem solving and more.
- Look to nature. You and your child can find examples of perseverance through unusual circumstances. For example, an animal who must adapt to their changing environment, or a flower growing on a sidewalk.
Whatever activities you choose can be fun, yet educational.
Both self-confidence and grit will help your child find their purpose and bring value to their lives. Building these traits, starts with you at home. It starts with leading by example and guiding your child to make the best possible decisions they can. By incorporating these things into everyday practice, your child will build the skills they need to confidently take on any obstacle in the future and live a more fulfilling life.