You can’t just tell someone to be confident and expect that he/she will magically feel confident. Boy do I wish this were true. Parenting and caring for youth would be easy if we could wave a wand. Cultivating confidence involves actively implementing the following steps:
- Making it safe for youth to express and be heard;
- Using trust and choice to support confidence building in youth; and
- Developing and restoring internal confidence.
Step 1: Make it Safe for Youth to Express Themselves And Be Heard
First create an environment of safety whether in the classroom, home, or elsewhere. This means listen without judgement to nurture a youth’s thoughts and choices. If you have concerns about something they express, ask questions, without JUDGEMENT, such as “What will you do if…?” or “How can I help…?”
Adult Behaviors That Make It Safe For Youth To Express Themselves And Be Heard
As authority figures “who know better” we often come down hard on youth. Adults may yell or criticize their youth for their behavior. However, to cultivate confidence, the best practice is to let youth know that you want to hear their fears and reasons for doing or not doing something. In fact, let them know, “You are in a safe zone. That means you can express your thoughts and I will hear you.”
Next, support youth when they express concerns for failing or ‘messing up.’ Remember failure is a natural part of life. In fact, it’s essential to the creative and growth process. An adult might say supportive things like:
- “What is the worst thing that can happen?”
- “The only true failure is failing to try.” “I have failed many times before I succeeded, but eventually I succeeded, and you can too.”
- Discuss all of the inventions that we use today, and the many failures of inventors before they got it right. “It’s normal and okay to fail.”
Finally, help youth replace limiting beliefs. For example, when a young person expresses doubts about their ability to succeed at a task or in a situation, suggest a belief that supports confidence, “Think about a time that you doubted your ability to get something done but you did it.”
Instilling confidence works. Take it from my student Sandra. She is a parent who applied these strategies over time and her relationship with her children has thrived. Sandra explains, “I am a good mom to my daughter, because Dr. Kim taught us and modeled what good caregiving looks like. I honestly do not know where my daughter and I would be today if I had not met Dr. Kim.” Her application of these strategies really made all the difference.
Step 2: Use Trust and Choice to Support Confidence Building In Youth.
Trusting youth choices builds their confidence. Let me say that again, trust your youth’s choices and you will build their confidence.
Adult Behaviors That Show Teen’s You Trust Their Choices
Give choices when it is appropriate. Letting youth go through the choice making process is very empowering to them. Here are a couple of examples of how to give a teenager choice:
- “We are going to the beach today, would you like to stay home or go with us?”
- “This is a school night, if you want to go to a movie what time do you think you can be home and ready for bed?” Notice this is not the same as saying “This is a school night, be home by 8:00 pm.”
Next, the adult needs to trust the choices made by youth by supporting them and providing them with what is needed for them to succeed. Here are a couple of examples of how to support a youth in making their own choices.
- “I see you are disappointed in your friend. What do you think you need and how can you get that need met?”
- “Which extracurricular activities are you interested in?”
- “I loved playing football in high school, but that doesn’t mean you will. If you choose being in the math club, I respect your choice.”
Step 3: Develop and Restore Internal Confidence
As adults we know what it is like to lose confidence in ourselves. When youth lose confidence, it is important for adults to support them in restoring it.
Adult Behaviors That Support Teens In Developing & Restoring Internal Confidence
First, break difficult tasks into steps. Communicate those steps and notice effort rather than the end result. Be practical. If confidence is shaken due to social or emotional circumstances, positively assist youth in practicing skills that help them succeed in future similar situations — “The next time what do you think would be a good choice?” “How could you do it differently?” “What can you say if this happens again?”
Resist the urge to:
- Push your preferences on youth.
- Compare youth to each other.
- Label youth—labels can sound complimentary but sometimes they put youth in box that they do not want to be. “This is Sophie, our star soccer player,” a better statement is, “This is Sophie, she loves to play soccer, if you enjoy the game of soccer you may want to go to one of her games one day.”
How confident do you feel that you can do this? I believe every adult can do this and it’s a matter of learning and practicing these skills.
Do you have a story about a confident youth or need advice? Share your story or Ask Dr. Kim here.