As a parent or carer, it can be tough to witness your child missing out on exciting opportunities and activities because they are lacking in confidence and self-esteem.
Confidence comes from within – it is the belief someone has in their ability to succeed. A confident child will take risks because they believe they will ‘win’ in the end, while one lacking in confidence will focus on the imagined or real obstacles and shy away.
Being confident is not about children being loud or boastful – or feeling superior to their friends or classmates – but knowing they can rely on themselves to handle everyday challenges like school exams, competitive sports or speaking out when they think something is unjust.
And when things go wrong – as they often will – a young person who is confident will pick themselves up and have another go.
Lack of confidence
Many children and young people lack confidence. When people say good things about them, or praise their skills and talents, they think they are lying and doubt their motives.
A child or young person who lacks confidence in their own abilities will often miss out on opportunities, even when the activity is something they would like to do deep down and might excel at, e.g. acting in a school play.
When they fail at something, they will be less likely to try again, using one negative experience as the reason for opting out of other challenging situations.
Lack of confidence stops a young person from reaching their full potential.
Social media features largely in the lives of most young people, yet studies show how too much time spent browsing through friends’ posts and photographs can really mess with a young person’s confidence and self-esteem.
Comparisons are natural – especially with friends the same age – and social media can convince young people that everyone else is more popular, better-looking, achieves higher grades, gets invited to more parties, etc.
The irony is, of course, that many of those who post constantly about their perfect lives on social media platforms are doing so because they too lack self-confidence.
Building a young person’s confidence
As a parent or carer, there are things you can do to help:
- Let your child know you love them unconditionally.
- Praise your child readily – if they fail at something, praise their efforts.
- Show confidence in your own abilities – children learn from role models.
- Help your child to set realistic goals, step by step if necessary.
- Encourage them to be physically active.
- Discover their passion and encourage their talents.
- Tell your child that it’s alright not to succeed every time – sometimes it’s enough just to try and then try again.
- Encourage your child to be adventurous and take risks (within safe limits).
- Be consistent – even if they insist otherwise, rules give children a sense of security and confidence.
Parenting: Give It Time lists 101 words and phrases parents can praise a child. Examples include:
- I am proud of you
- Fantastic job
- You are growing up
- You mean the world to me
- You made my day
Childline has lots of tips to help a young person deal with their lack of confidence and self-esteem.
Taking action will build a young person’s confidence in the long-term. Tell them it’s normal to be scared of doing things outside their comfort zone. Perhaps they have been chosen to read in assembly, or are starting at a new school or college or maybe they want to join a sports club but their lack of confidence is holding them back.
Remind them that stepping into the unknown is equally terrifying for everyone, including parents and teachers.
When to get help
If your child’s lack of confidence is severely affecting their everyday life, it might be time to seek professional help.
Talk to your child’s school or college. They might arrange counselling sessions. Alternatively, visit your GP. Some children and young people may need support from the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS).