The link between self-confidence and success is undeniable. The most successful leaders I’ve ever encountered were confident without being arrogant. And confidence has a ripple effect on success, hence the business adage that an organization is never more confident than its leader.
For my wife and I, instilling self-confidence in our daughter has been as much a focus area for us as having her grow up kind or kicking her perfectionism. But it’s so tricky because confidence can go awry in so many ways from so many stimuli and conditions in her world. We’ve been lucky that this has turned out to be a strength of hers, but I still wish we would have come across the wisdom of Carl Pickhardt sooner.
Pickhardt is a Harvard educated psychologist who has written 15 parenting books and who had much to share about raising confident kids with Business Insider. I curated his best tips (focusing on the less obvious ones) and blended them with my own experience to give you seven ways to instill self-confidence in your child.
1. Make your help contingent on their self-help.
As parents we want to do everything we can to help our children, but at some point, everything does nothing for their development and confidence.
This one’s hard for me because that parental instinct to “rescue” my daughter kicks in, creating a desire to intervene and help solve her problems. But I’ve learned that making shortcuts for her only lengthens her road to true self-confidence. And I see the results– when she tackles something on her own, she walks taller.
2. Applaud the effort, not just the result.
As Pickhardt explains, “Over the long haul, consistently trying hard builds more confidence than intermittently doing well.” That’s because in trying hard the child knows they’re doing their best, they see progress in some measure, and will define success in smaller steps along the way. These constant micro-wins and knowing that they’re giving their full effort add up to sustainable confidence.
Note that for especially difficult tasks your child undertakes, you should applaud their effort and not just the outcome.
3. Don’t tell them when you’re worried about them.
Expressing confidence creates confidence. It’s our job as parents to be worried about our kids, but telling them we are is unhelpful (except on things related to their safety or health). When you do, you plant seeds of doubt, not growth. It’s up to you to ensure the latter.
I’ve seen the power of the latter many times as a leader. I tell someone who’s not so confident that I believe in them and then their performance soars, thus boosting their self-confidence– a wonderful virtuous cycle.
4. Encourage practice outside of pressure.
As an adult, you should practice the way you’ll be performing, under simulated conditions of pressure. Not so as a child. The point of practicing for kids is to, as Pickhardt explains, “instill the confident expectation that improvement will follow.” You already know you’ll get better with practice, kids need to learn this. And children build competence and confidence simultaneously in supportive environments.
One example: a Pennsylvania barbershop owner gives kids three dollars off their haircut if they practice reading a book aloud while getting their trim. The idea is to help build the child’s confidence in public speaking, something the owner struggled with as a child and as an adult. Low pressure, high impact.
5. Let them act their age.
In certain areas you might want your child to mature faster. But Pickhardt would remind you that on the whole, “Striving to meet advanced age expectations can reduce confidence.”
There are two exceptions to this, however. The first is letting the child make as many decisions as possible, even more than their age might dictate (as appropriate). Second, encourage them to excel at their natural talents/advanced skills that by default put them ahead of their age (i.e. don’t hold them back in those cases).
Both of these exceptions build confidence, not burst it.
6. Expand their circle of challenge.
Give your child new challenges, experiences, and responsibilities, and praise them for their courage in taking them on. When they make the inevitable mistakes, help them see those mistakes as a necessary part of the learning process. Share your own stories of failure and improvement, too.
And give feedback and suggestions for improvement versus criticism. As Pickhradt says, “More often than not, parental criticism reduces the child’s self-valuing and motivation.”
7. Let them see you succeed at something.
Oh, they’re watching you. So demonstrate some moments of triumph to subtly ingrain, “If mom/dad can do it…” Just remember, don’t expect them to do it as well as you or you undermine the point.
Bottom line, be confident you’ll help build confidence by following this advice.