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Question: How do I prevent my teen from getting discouraged when not making the sports team at school? How do I help him build self-confidence? –Marc in Minneapolis, MN.
We, as parents, want our children to grow up healthy, happy and self-confident. It is easy to determine what steps we can take to foster good physical health: proper nutrition, regular medical exams, regular exercise, etc. However, fostering happiness and self confidence can be more elusive. Valuing our children as individuals, communicating our love for them, and letting them feel truly heard are some of the many components to fostering happiness in our children. Fostering self-confidence, however takes effort, awareness and sensitivity in specific areas.
Acknowledge Self Confidence as a Learned Attribute. Self-confidence is, to some degree, a learned trait. That is to say that we generally start as teenagers with some degree of uncertainty. When we attempt an accomplishment, it is our success or failure, as well as the feedback that comes to us as a result that determines whether our level of self-confidence is bolstered or diminished.
Maintain Momentum of Small Successes. For example, if a third grade boy tries out for junior football and is chosen for the team, the boy will learn that he is strong and capable in this context. He will subsequently interact with other youth who also consider themselves strong and capable in the sport of football. These youngsters become friends which makes the boy feel good that others enjoy his company. This will further reinforce the concept that he is a good person and worthy of friends. As his football prowess grows, so will his assessment of his own capability. Thus, by participating in football, his self-esteem has been bolstered in athletic as well as social contexts.
Be Context-Specific when Offering Feedback. Just because the desired accomplishment didn’t come to fruition, doesn’t mean self confidence should lower. For example, if this same boy tries out for soccer and is not chosen for the team, the feedback he receives as a result of this perceived failure will determine the effect of this event on his level of self-confidence. If he receives feedback that he did very well, however he was just a not as fast of a runner than the boys that were chosen for the soccer team, the boy will understand that his not making the team is performance based. Choosing feedback that is performance based, instead of personally-based in most effective in building self confidence.
Watch your Words. Let’s follow the same example of the boy who did not make the soccer team. Maybe he was one of the youngest boys trying out, so therefore he may feel encouraged (he did well for his size and age), which bolsters his self-confidence. Conversely however, what if he returns home after try outs to report that he did not make the team and his parent provides the following critical in nature feedback, “you performed very poorly. What’s the matter with you?” The boy then internalizes this criticism as a personal innate flaw which then translates into diminishing his self-esteem.
Encourage Perseverance and Practice. Use small frequent experiences, regardless of the outcome to reward children’s participation and therefore begin lying down the building blocks of self-confidence. Continue trying-out, continue learning new skills and sports and continue to encourage him to make new friends and expand his social network.
Candi Wingate is an expert in the child care industry with over 20 years experience. She is the founder of Nannies4Hire.com and Care4Hire.com, and author of 100 Tips for Nannies & Families and The Nanny Factor: A Parent’s Guide to Finding the Right Nanny for Your Family