How to Help Your Child Develop Self-Confidence

Tips and guidelines to foster self-confidence in your child

Girl on bike

Raising kids with enough self-confidence to not only survive but thrive, is a goal for many parents. And while the focus is primarily on “self,” parents do play a significant role in how a child develops competence and a strong sense of self, which is important for their health and psychological well-being. 

Knowing how to encourage your child, and staying clued in on what to say when they look to you for guidance, can mean the difference between a child who believes in themselves and one that often doubts their abilities.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow to help your child develop self-confidence.

Make Frequent Deposits in their Self-Esteem Bank

Self-confidence and self-esteem are often used interchangeably, but they don’t always mean the same thing. When you make a deposit in your child’s self-esteem bank, you are showing that you care and love them regardless of the outcome of their behavior. Some examples of this might be telling them how proud of them you are, or complimenting them on something they've created or accomplished.

Showing that you'll love and appreciate them, no matter what will help your child build their self-esteem and feeling of self-appreciation.  When these feelings are intact, it’s easier for a child to explore new opportunities and embrace the unknown with confidence, which leads to an increase in self-confidence and a willingness to trust their abilities. 

Make Time to Play 

Kids of all ages learn through play and interactions with others. As a parent, you are often your child’s first “playmate,” which means you are also the first person to help them develop a strong sense of self.

By being fully present through play, spending time together, getting outdoors, or just sitting down and reading their favorite book, you show your child they are valuable and worthy of your time. And when your child feels valuable and supported, they are more willing to take on life’s challenges. 

Pay Attention to How Often You Praise

Children of all ages like to hear approval from their parents. In fact, praise and positive feedback are often two of the most common ways kids measure their worth. That’s why it is so important to be realistic in how you praise.

Dr. Jeff Nalin, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director at Paradigm Malibu Treatment Center, says to give positive feedback when your child succeeds at or attempts a new challenge, but refrain from giving unwarranted praise. “Although praise is valuable, children should also be applauded for their competence,” he explains.

Children who receive constant, empty praise will lack the motivation to push their limits and go beyond what is expected of them. They also develop a false sense of validation, which Nalin says, collapses when challenges arise.

More specifically, haphazardly administering praise to your child may result in less improvement in performance, an increase in learning obstacles, and higher levels of anxiety. That’s why Nalin says children who are shown appreciation for their ability to endure trials and errors often acquire lasting confidence that will carry them into adulthood.

Wait Before You Offer Help

Kids need a lot of practice in life to learn how to manage themselves and overcome obstacles. So giving them the space to try things on their own before offering help builds their self-confidence. “Parents should nurture a child’s ability to solve problems as these will inevitably become a regular part of their life,” explains Nalin. While it might be tempting to jump in and rescue your child, doing so will only hinder their ability to take care of themselves. "Children who learn how to problem-solve on their own will be better equipped to handle issues and deal with anxiety in a healthy manner,” he adds.

Asking a well-placed question is one way to encourage problem-solving and offer support.

Nalin says this strategy can prompt a child toward critical thinking, awareness, and self-discovery.

Embrace Risk-Taking 

Mistakes are bound to happen, which is why Nalin says parents should teach children that failure is a part of life and a great learning experience. When children are struggling with a setback, Nalin says it is important that parents offer their unconditional support by listening and offering encouragement, regardless of the end result.

“In times of failure, children should understand that it’s never too late to try again and that the effort is infinitely more valuable than the outcome,” he explains. Nalin also says that parents can instill these values by taking risks together as a family. "Starting a new hobby or activity, or even making new friends, are great ways to teach children to step outside of their comfort zone and appreciate the joy and excitement that comes from taking risks," adds Nalin.

Check Your Confidence

If you want to help your child develop confidence, you first need to take inventory of your own. “Children are great mimickers, so parents should be conscious of the way in which they handle their own problems,” says Nalin. He points out that facing failure or obstacles with grace and confidence is a great way to teach children that their own drawbacks and disappointments are perfectly acceptable and a normal part of life. “Children who witness a parent’s determination to try again after a defeat will be empowered to tackle his or her own challenges head-on," he adds.

Stop Saying “But”

Another thing you can do, says Jenna Palumbo, LCPC, a child and adolescent therapist, is to change your "but's" to "and's." For example, we might say, "Wow, you did your homework so fast, but did you check your answers?” Unfortunately, what your child hears is, "You did your homework way to quick; there’s no way you did it right." Instead, she recommends adding an "and" into your sentence, so you don't negate everything that came before the "but." Here's what you could say instead, "Wow, you did your homework fast, and I'm sure you checked your answers, right?" 

A Word From Verywell

One of the most important parts of parenting is teaching and modeling confidence. By creating an environment that allows your child to feel safe and loved, they may be more willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn on their own. When a child learns to trust their capabilities, while still being able to handle setbacks, they are able to develop the resilience and confidence needed to thrive.

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Article Sources
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    doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183958. 

  2. Hosogi M, Okada A, Fujii C, Noguchi K, Watanabe K. Importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children. Biopsychosoc Med. 2012;6:9. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-6-9

  3. American Psychological Association. APA Dictionary of Psychology: Self-Confidence

  4. Xing S, Gao X, Jiang Y, Archer M, Liu X. Effects of Ability and Effort Praise on Children's Failure Attribution, Self-Handicapping, and Performance. Front Psychol. 2018;9:1883. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01883

Additional Reading
  • Nalin, Jeff. Email interview. September 11, 2019.

  • Palumbo, Jenna. Email interview. September 9, 2019.