10 Tips for Confidence in ME


The school year is about one month along.  By now some students have found their pace and are back in the swing of things; others are still struggling and will always struggle.  For the child for whom learning is always a struggle, how can we help her gain confidence and learn to be self-assured?  And why is this so important to learning?

There is something called “learned helplessness.”  A person who struggles to do many things can come to believe it will be a struggle to do everything and there will only be failure.  Then that person refuses to try anything new or try different ways to do what they struggle with now.  This is learned helplessness.  It can be unlearned, too.  Here’s your checklist for learning confidence and becoming self-assured.

1.  Give your child experiences that will be successful, guaranteed.

2.  Point out to everyone, especially the child, that this is success.  How clever, how strong, how pretty…whatever it is, say it aloud so the success is shared as broadly as possible.  (One mom created a nightly “success report” via phone to Grandma.)

3.  Once the child has some success under his belt, give a small challenge and make sure he has all the tools or skills he needs to meet the challenge successfully.  DO NOT DO IT FOR HIM.  When he falters, say, “You just did XXX so well, and this is only a teensy bit more.  I KNOW you can do it.  There, see, you almost did it.  One more time, and……..YOU DID IT!”

4.  Create charts for success.  Like the daily chore charts and homework charts, chart these trials and accomplishments.  The child who is entrenched in learned helplessness seems not to perceive that he is about to succeed, and if he succeeds, he may be unable to give himself credit for his success.  The self-talk goes like this.  “I’m not really that good, that was just luck.”  “I’m not that smart.  Anybody could have done that if I could do it.”  “Sure I did it.  I had help.  I can’t do it by myself.”

Charts that give a visible, tangile evidence of success and show growth help this child perceive that yes, his ability to succeed IS growing.

5.  Find someone else who needs to learn something this child can do and teach or help another child to learn.  This emphasizes an area where your child is competent and has the added benefit of friendship.

6.  Make comments during the day about successes of yesterday.  “Yesterday you were on fire!  You wrote that note like a pro!” “Jack may throw a mean curveball, but you catch mean!”

7.  Help your child find activities (at least one) that is successful for him.  If he can excel or do at least average in only one activity, this helps make him immune to the feelings of helplessness when he can’t learn at school.  He now has his personal proof that yes, he CAN do something well, and with that success, failure in another area is not as big a deal.  These areas of success are called “islands of competence.”  Help your child collect these islands.

8.  When your child knows he can be successful, you can start working on how to use failure for good things.  Edison failed more than 10,000 times at finding a material that worked in the electric light bulb.  He said it this way.  “I didn’t fail.  I found 10,000 ways that don’t work!”  Every failure has its lesson–or more than one lesson.  Sit with your child or walk with your child and talk it over.  What is the lesson?  How can he build on it for success?  Being able to look at failure this way is a mark of maturity and many adults have never learned to do it.  Starting as a child makes it much easier to learn.

9.  Have your child start a piggy bank where deposits are made only for failure.  The point of doing this is that failure is a part of life and it is how we build experience.  Losing isn’t failure if you learn from it.  It becomes an experience that brought another piece of strength for the next effort.  Money in the bank.  Forgetting the homework wasn’t life-threatening if you figured out how to get it to the teacher after this.  Money in the bank.  Eventually your child will have enough money for a hamburger or a sundae or something she’d like to have, and when that reward is bought, remember and celebrate the lessons that converted failure into success.

10.  Instructions:  You or your child can do the writing.  Your child must do the thinking, but you can prompt & remind if necessary.

Day 1:  Write down 3 things he can do.

Day 2:  Write down 3 things he can do with one hand.

Day 3:  Write down 3 things he can do with one foot.  (it could be “wear a sock”)

Day 4:  Write down 3 things he can do with his left index finger.

Day 5:  Ask him what 3 things he’d like to write down about something he can do with (a spoon, a pencil, a superhero toy)

Day 6:  Ask him about 3 times he’s helped someone do something.

Day 7: Ask him about 3 things he does to help around the home.

Day 8:  Ask him to wear (or carry in a pocket or purse) a certificate you make for him that says “SUPERDUDE (Superdudette for girls)!”

Our children experience success every day but it’s often so mundane and unnoticed that it is taken for granted and passed over.  These exercises help point out how much our children actually are learning and doing successfully.  Go ahead–surprise your child–and yourself!

With all this success around, your child will learn to say, “I can do it.  I have confidence in ME.”


One Response

  1. Are you making this up as you go along?

    No, Carola, I’m not. I have seen this work as a beginning of building self esteem many times. Children come in all “flavors” with many different kinds of disabilities and abilities. But they all need success to be able to believe in themselves. These smallest successes that we take for granted can be powerful because they instill a recognition of “I can.” I am assuming that if a child can’t do some of these things, a parent will be wise enough not to ask the child to do those things and will find alternatives instead. One of my clients is now grown and the catchword between her parents and her when things are hard is a twirl of her index finger–acknowledgement that if she can do this, she can do other things as well–and can make it through this day, week, month, etc.

    Do you have suggestions for meeting these children’s needs for success? Would you like to see your suggestions posted? I would! Parents will appreciate it.

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