Confidence helps us deal with the challenges in life. If we are confident, we believe in our abilities and feel hopeful that we can achieve our goals. We are also more willing to try new things, and this helps us to learn. Having confidence also means we are more likely to feel comfortable with ourselves and that we have something worthwhile to give.
Confidence helps us interact with other people, which makes it easier for us to form relationships. We live in a social world, so our relationships with others are of considerable importance to our wellbeing. Confidence is an essential part of building relationships - the more confident we are, the stronger, healthier relationships we will be able to build with others.
Our main educational aim should be to encourage the growth of competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.
When parents are asked what they want for their children, they often say they want them to feel confident. Confidence is an important part of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Teachers are being asked to enable all young people to become 'confident individuals'. Feeling confident about yourself is one of the things that leads to a flourishing life.
Confidence means slightly different things to different people. Here, we are talking about a child or young person who:
Some children and young people may seem naturally more confident than others, but confidence isn’t fixed. It can grow and develop. And if it does, children and young people are more likely to have fulfilling lives.
Confidence is not about how we behave on the outside - it is about our inner feelings of self-belief. One confident child may be very popular, willing to speak up in class or even act on stage. Another confident child may sit quietly in class and have a couple of close friends. So, two confident children may appear very different. But they are both able and willing to learn new things. Both will try hard because they will be optimistic about what they can do.
As an adult who lives with or works with children or young people, you have an important role to play in encouraging confidence in them. You can help children and young people develop the four components of confidence listed above by how you act and what you say.
Did you know?
Confidence is contagious! Research has shown that teachers with high confidence in their teaching ability create confident pupils. Parents who have confidence in their ability as a parent improve their children’s self-beliefs and capabilities.
A child or young person’s belief in their own ability to do things is important for their motivation, perseverance and success in life.
This self-belief (sometimes referred to as self-efficacy) can motivate a child or young person more than their actual skill level. So, a child who truly believes they can pass a test or ride a bike or write a poem may be more likely to achieve it than another child who has better ability, but who doesn’t believe they can do it.
Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right.
Having a strong belief that you can do something will help you to try harder and to keep trying even when you find it difficult. For example, a child who has a realistic belief that they are a good footballer will keep trying even when they don’t make the team. An author, who has a realistic belief that their book is good, will cope with rejection and will keep trying to get it published.
And the more things a child or young person believes they can do, the more likely they are to generalise that self-belief to other areas of their lives. So they begin to believe they have the ability to try, persevere and succeed in a whole range of activities.
A study found that some children kept trying when tasks got difficult and didn’t see themselves as failing when they made mistakes. Other children gave up easily when tasks became challenging and tried to avoid carrying out further similar tasks.
The first group of children were termed as having a ‘Growth Mindset’ - they believed they could improve their performance through hard work, determination and by learning more. These children enjoyed challenge. Failure and mistakes were not seen as an indication of their ability and therefore it wasn’t a risk to try and fail at tasks.
The children who gave up easily were termed as having a ‘Fixed Mindset’ - they believed that their ability was fixed, they were either good at something or they weren’t, and believed that there was nothing they could do about that. These children would avoid tasks they found challenging. Failure and mistakes called into question their ability and therefore their self-worth was on the line when they didn’t do well at tasks.
Further studies found that the type of feedback children got could influence whether they developed a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset:
So praising children for their effort and how hard they try really makes a difference to what they belief about themselves and how well they can do.
Bandura and Dweck (1985), Mueller and Dweck (1998).
Here's a video of Carol Dweck talking about mindsets:
For more information about growth mindsets, go to:
Self-worth is about being aware of, and valuing, your true self. It is not about how others see you or how you think others see you. It is not based on what you achieve. It is not about the kind of person you think others expect you to be. It is about who you are deep inside and your belief that you have a value to other people and to the community around you. When a child or young person has a genuine sense of self-worth, they are aware of their own unique being and their unique place in the world. They know who they are and they know that they’re ok, even when things aren’t going so well for them.
"Be who you are, not someone else"
Caitlin Robb, 11 years
Self-worth is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem generally means how you feel about yourself in comparison to others, which can fluctuate depending on your mood and whether you are currently achieving or failing. So self-esteem is like a spotlight being turned on you - when things are going well you feel great, but when things aren’t going so well, you may beat yourself up or feel low or even depressed. Self-worth is more like an inner light that shines from you, out into the world.
If a child or young person feels this sense of self-worth, they are less likely to give up when they fail. They are also less likely to get depressed when something bad happens to them, like when a relationship with a friend breaks down. They are also more likely to be kind to themselves and more likely to treat themselves like their own best friend.
This is not just about taking the blame for your wrong-doings. It is a lot more than that. It is about believing that you are in control of your own life. It is about believing that when something happens to you, you are able to choose how you respond. People who take responsibility for their actions don’t believe that chance or luck or other people control what happens to them. They are proactive rather than reactive. This means that they think about how to respond or act in a situation, rather than just reacting to things as if there’s nothing they can do. They say things like "I choose", "I prefer", or "I will" rather than "I can’t", "I must" or "if only".
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances.
George Bernard Shaw
Victor Frankl was a survivor of a World War II concentration camp. When he was in the camp, he became very aware that, even though he was treated worse than an animal and had no freedom as we generally understand it, he was still free to choose how to respond to his situation and to the guards who were doing this to him. The guards could not take away that ultimate freedom. This awareness helped him to survive. Even though the guards tried, they couldn’t take away his human dignity because he was still responsible (response-able) for his own actions.
This attitude of responsibility is the basis of becoming independent. Babies and young children are very dependent on the adults around them to take responsibility for them. However, as soon as a child is able to take some responsibility for their behaviour and their choices, they should be encouraged to do so. This is an important component of confidence and, ultimately, of a fulfilling and happy life.
Confidence requires an optimistic outlook on life. Being optimistic is looking on the bright side or 'seeing the glass as half-full'. An optimistic outlook is about expecting things to be well and to go well for you. So when things go wrong, you will brush it off as unimportant and will tell yourself it was due to something specific and it won’t have a long-lasting effect. For example: "I didn’t pass the exam because I didn’t study hard enough for that one - I’ll be able to pass it next time."
As a comparison, being pessimistic is 'seeing the glass as half-empty'. It means expecting things not to be well or to go well for you. So when something goes wrong, this adds more evidence to your dim view of the world. For example: "I knew I wouldn’t pass that exam because I am stupid and am useless at exams."
You may have a tendency to be more optimistic or more pessimistic. But these attitudes are not fixed and you can become more optimistic by being reflective about why things happened to you. You can also help children and young people to become more optimistic.
Adults face the critical challenge of making the positive self-beliefs of youngsters automatic and habitual as early as possible. After all, good habits are as hard to break as are bad habits.
When they were small you clapped when they sang. Don't ever stop.
Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK. If you're not failing, you're not growing.
H. Stanley Judd
Did you know?
Thomas Edison made 1000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn't fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps."
Support for Fife schools
Many schools have considered how they can encourage pupils to develop a Growth Mindset approach to learning where they believe they can improve their performance through hard work and determination.
The Fife Council Educational Psychology Service can provide further information and support to schools in Fife, including how to implement the Mistakes, Praise and Feedback pack. The pack is based on research evidence about mindsets, self-efficacy / self-belief, optimism and other factors that contribute to a positive approach to learning.
Did you know?
As people evaluate their lives, they are more likely to regret challenges they did not confront, risks they didn't take and contests they didn't enter as a result of under-confidence and self-doubt. They are less likely to regret actions taken as a result of over-confidence and optimism (or even foolishness).
It isn't sufficient just to want - you've got to ask yourself what you are going to do to get the things you want.
Richard D. Rosen
Here's an activity you can try to help build children and young people's confidence:
Growing Confidence Trees
Our confidence grows over time, like a strong tree. Here's an activity to do with children, young people or groups, to explore some of the things they can do that will help their confidence grow even stronger.
What you need:
What you do:
Some things to talk about: