Cultivate the Trait: Confidence

By Melanie Gasmen-Fleck

Each Bravery issue teaches a different positive trait. For instance, Issue 14 celebrates Ella Fitzgerald’s confidence. Our latest blog series, Cultivate the Trait, is a new parenting resource for caregivers. It shares different ways to cultivate this trait in little ones. For our first Cultivate the Trait, we teamed up with one of our favorite parenting educators, Dr. Jazmine McCoy, also known as The Mom Psychologist. Get Dr. Jazmine’s expert pointers on how to help boost your kid’s confidence!

Guest blogger Dr. Jazmine McCoy is a clinical psychologist, author, and mother of two. Her work focuses on helping parents navigate parenting and all the tough stuff that comes with it. She also founded a parent-coaching community, The Mom Sisterhood. For simplified child-development strategies and positive parenting advice, subscribe to her weekly channel, and follow her on Instagram.


unsplash image by Santi Verdí confidence in kids

Written by Dr. Jazmine McCoy. Image by Santi Verdí on Unsplash

One of our biggest goals as parents is to raise confident, resilient children who believe in themselves and their abilities. After all, children who are confident are more likely to do well across several areas of their life including making and keeping friends, doing well in school, being a great teammate and beyond. Confidence helps children take calculated risks, trust in their own abilities, and bounce back when they have failed. Fundamentally, confidence originates from learning and accomplishing new things. While every child is unique and will have their own individual needs, here are few things you can do to instill confidence:

1. Make time for play

Our best parenting “tool” is our relationship with our children and play is the best investment you can make in your child. It is through consistent individual play time with your child that they come to believe they are important and cherished.

To maximize play time, follow their lead during play. If you think about it, children get very few opportunities to take the lead throughout the day. As adults, we must decide much of what their day-to-day looks like (with good reason, of course). Play can be a wonderful opportunity to balance the scale, if you will, and give your child the chance to take the lead and make decisions. So, while playing with your child, make sure to let them choose the play activity, follow their lead during play, and repeat back what they say to show you are listening. For example, if they excitedly say, “Look! I made a big tower!”, you can say something like, “Yes, I see your tower! It is huge! I would love to hear more about it.”

To get the most out of play, you will also want to try your best to limit any distractions so that you can demonstrate to your child that you are fully present and invested in being with them. Remember, just five to ten minutes of uninterrupted one-on-one play time every day with your child can go a long way in your relationship and how they feel about themselves.

image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

2. Give them choices throughout the day

Outside of play, giving your child choices throughout the day is a great way to show them their opinions, preferences, wants and needs are important. Everyone likes to have choices in what they do. Instead of choosing their snack or clothes for them, offer two choices that you are equally fine with. For instance, you can say something like, “It is time for a snack. Would you like an apple or cheese and crackers?” When it’s time to get dressed in the morning, you can say, “Which shirt would you like to wear? The blue or green one?” You can follow up with, “Great choice!” The key is to only give choices you agree to. Nothing is more frustrating than to be given a choice only to find out it is not the right one. It is also not recommended to give more than two choices because too many choices can lead to overwhelm and indecision. Overall, offering choices throughout the day is a simple yet powerful way to teach them how to trust in their own ability to make decisions for themselves.

3. Focus on their strengths more than their weaknesses

There is a wonderful quote by Haim Ginott that says “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” Our language as parents is so important and it starts with our perspective. If we want our child to feel confident in themselves, we must be invested in focusing on their strengths more than their weaknesses. We must also make an effort to let them know when they are on the right track both directly and to others. Nothing is more discouraging to a child then them overhearing you talking poorly about them to others. As much as you can, make an effort to notice and acknowledge their effort and strengths.

4. Appreciate their effort rather than fixed skills

When trying to help build their confidence and self esteem, it can be tempting to praise their accomplishments and point out all the wonderful work they are doing. This is great, but you will also want to focus on acknowledging their effort and hard work as much as possible. That way, when they fail or make a mistake, they will be more likely to bounce back because you have instilled in them the value of hard work and perseverance even when we do not accomplish the goals we have set for ourselves.

The way we praise our child can influence their mindset about things. When we praise their intelligence, we run the risk of our children equating their mistakes and failures with a lack of intelligence. The best way to build your child’s growth mindset & resilience is to focus on appreciating their hard work, dedication, and patience.

After all, it takes time and hard work to develop and learn new skills. So, instead of saying, “You are so smart!” when they succeed, try something like, “I love how much work you put into this!”,  “I would love to hear more about your drawing.” or “Nice work. Tell me how you arrived at your answer.” These subtle, yet powerful, shifts in our language can go a long way in letting them know the value of the work they are putting in. 

Jerry Wang on Unsplash Image by Jerry Wang on Unsplash 

5. Involve them in family contributions

Giving your child chores, or family contribution tasks, sends them the direct message that they are an important part of the family. Children naturally want to be helpful and seen as a valuable member of the family so involving them in age-appropriate chores is a wonderful way to show them they are an important part of the family system. Having your child help you bring in the mail, take care of the family pet and/or water houseplants is a great way to instill confidence. 

6. Model what it looks like to make mistakes and lose graciously

Modeling the skills we want our child to learn is one of the best ways to teach and guide them through the process. Children are constantly looking to the adults in their lives on how to handle setbacks, failures, and mistakes. We can provide the guidance they’re looking for by modeling having a positive and persistent attitude despite mistakes and failures. Saying things like, “Aw, that was disappointing. I feel sad but I will not give up. I am going to try again!” after you lose during a board game can help your child know how they can handle disappointments in the future. As adults, we know perfection is unrealistic and it is so important we teach our children this concept as early as possible.

In summary, confidence is the foundation to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. After all, how you feel about yourself influences the choices you make. By making time for play, giving choices throughout the day, focusing on their strengths more than their weaknesses, appreciating their effort rather than fixed traits like intelligence, involving them in chores and modeling being a good sport can go a long way in raising a self-assured and resilient child.