7 Ways to Raise a Physically Confident Child

A fearless tree climber shows physical confidence
Michael H / Getty Images

One of our most important jobs as parents is to build our kids' self-esteem, and that should extend to physical confidence too. Kids who are confident in themselves and their abilities will do better academically, socially, and behaviorally. Physical confidence, in particular, can mean better mental and physical health. Even obese and overweight teens who often face bullying and discrimination can feel empowered and improve their self-worth through exercise.

Signs of Physical Confidence

Being physically confident isn't just about being physically active, although that is part of it. Kids who are confident in their bodies are:

  • Comfortable with different kinds of sports and other physical activities
  • Willing to try new things and take on new challenges
  • Secure in their body's ability to handle those challenges
  • Aware of their limits, but also aware those limits can be overcome
  • Mentally tough — They realize that some skills are hard to master, but they keep trying

Whether or not your child plays sports, having physical confidence will help her enjoy exercise and other active pursuits. And getting into that mindset early on could help her live more healthfully her whole life!

How to Promote Physical Confidence

Be a role model. Like so many parenting tasks, this one starts with you being a role model. It's all about "monkey see, monkey do." Let your kids see you take on physical challenges, whether it's tackling an adventure park together or trying stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time. And show them how you stick with it, even when it's hard. Avoid making excuses, like "I'm too old/weak/fat to try that." (Don't hurt yourself, obviously, but don't be too quick to give up, either. You might surprise yourself!)

Let kids make mistakes. "Parents should instill the value that we can all learn from our mistakes, and then let them go," says John Kelley, CEO of CoachUp, a service that connects athletes with personal coaches and trainers. "One way to do this is to ask children what they’ve failed at that day, as a way to diminish the fear of failure and encourage them to try new things."

Support risk-taking. Park that helicopter and let your child do something scary, whether it's climbing high up in a tree or teaching himself to skateboard. Free play and risk-taking are awesome opportunities for kids to solve their own problems. And when they can do that, they feel proud of themselves—as well they should!

Help kids set goals. "Believing in your kids means encouraging them to work harder and challenging them to improve in their game. If you don’t give your child an opportunity for growth, they may assume that you don’t see their potential," says Kelley. He recommends small goals that are measurable and objective, but not dependent on points or wins. "Remind them not to be so critical of themselves, and focus on getting better than they were the day before. They can do this by focusing on small wins—such as getting an assist in soccer—and taking the initiative to improve their physical skills outside of organized practice," he suggests.

Get them a not-so-secret admirer. Kids need to be told what they're good at, but (surprise) they don't always listen when they hear it from Mom and Dad. "Having someone other than a parent or team coach providing feedback and instruction can be helpful. It lets the parent be a parent, and lets the kid enjoy the sport and get better on their own terms," says John Kelley. This admirer could be a private coach, but it could also be a relative or family friend, especially one who has an interest in the same sport or activity that your child participates in.

Create a love list. Your child might respond a little better to praise if you make it a craft project. Here's an example of how to do this academic and other school-related skills, creating a paper chain of positive statements. You could adapt this hands-on activity to include the physical and mental skills that go along with being and feeling physically confident. You could even make it a whole-family project, to share the love. You might be surprised at what types of praise siblings can come up with for each other. 

Counter negative self-talk. Whether it's spoken aloud or not, what kids tell themselves about their confidence can really bust it or boost it. "It’s important to let kids know they should never give up after being discouraged by their physical skills," says Kelley. "Oftentimes it’s tough for them to evaluate themselves honestly—whether it’s positively or negatively." He recommends helping them make a list of their strengths and weaknesses. They can use this for goal-setting and for confidence-building; it's great for their growth and development as an athlete and as a person. Check-in with your child's coach or teachers on this one. "Bringing in a different perspective may open kids' eyes to something they weren’t aware of. Pointers coming from a coach, as opposed to a parent, will resonate more with an athlete."

If your child is naturally timid, don't worry. Take small steps and offer reassurance and support. You'll get there—and you'll both be stronger after the journey you take together.

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By Catherine Holecko
Catherine Holecko is an experienced freelance writer and editor who specializes in pregnancy, parenting, health and fitness.