Updated: Apr 19
Most parents dream of having a naturally "confident" kid who knows what he wants, speaks up when he has to, and has friends to spare.
After all, confident kids are happier and healthier, do better in school, and don't give in to peer pressure. They enjoy trying new things, helping others, and making decisions on their own.
It's no wonder we as parents can start worrying if our kids lack confidence. We want the best for our kids and begin to think our kids won't have what it takes to make it in the "real world."
We start telling ourselves things like;
If he does not ask for help, he will stay stuck.
If they don't engage in group activities or sports, they will be lonely and isolated.
If she doesn't advocate for herself, she'll never find her "voice" or "speak up" when it really matters.
The problem is we project our fears of the future onto our kids' present capacities. The good news is that these "real world" scenarios rarely come true. Our kiddos have a lot of "growing up" to do before their brains reach full maturity (yes, even if they're teens).
We forget that even the most "confident" people are not born that way. Their confidence developed over time in small incremental steps.
But, here's the thing, kids can't grow in their confidence if they don't know what they're good at. All kids are good at something, but many have no idea what that is.
We can help our kids build confidence by focusing on these three areas:
1. Help them identify their natural talents, tendencies, and strengths.
Exposing our kids to multiple activities will help them identify their natural talents, interests, and strengths. Watch what they are drawn to. What are they researching, reading, or talking about most often? What do they like to do in their free time or when they are "bored"?
In the same way, listen to what they don't like. I wanted my kids to learn piano, although they initially seemed interested. They hated recitals, struggled to practice, and it wasn't long before they dreaded lessons. Formal lessons took the fun out of music; they prefer to learn on their own by watching youtube or just tinkering with their instruments.
It's always a good idea to let our kids take the lead when choosing activities; getting their "buy-in" can decrease resistance to participating. Sports or classes with natural start and end dates are a great way to see what they enjoy and explore interests without committing to something for the long term.
2. Give them ample opportunity to practice.
Kids grow in confidence when they meet with success. When they try something, and it works, they are motivated to try again. Practice and perseverance are the keys to helping our kids find success.
My son recently showed an interest in paddle boarding. I cannot take him out much during the week, so early on a Saturday morning, we get up and drive to the bay. It's not always easy to tear myself out of bed, but watching his confidence grow as he paddles out is worth it.
It takes a lot of patience and often sacrifices on our behalf to support our kids. Creating time for our kids is essential.
Give Kids Choices
No one likes to be told what to do. Kids are no different. Whenever possible, offer a choice. All kids, but especially kids with ADHD, thrive with choices. It helps them take ownership and responsibility for the outcome and trust themselves to make good decisions.
Start with simple choices between two items:
What works best for you, feeding the dog at 3 pm or 6 pm?
What is the best time to take our walk, before or after dinner?
Do you want to shower in the mornings or at night?
Which book do you want to read— this book or that?
What do you prefer— tacos or pasta for dinner?
Encourage Them To Try New Things.
Pull Back - In order for our kids to try new things, we need to pull back from our preconceived notions or conclusions and be "open" to their interests and ideas. I hear parents say things like," Oh, you wouldn't like that, that's not your thing, that's a bad idea, or you wouldn't be good at that!" Let them try; they might just surprise you.
Push Forward - The other way to encourage our kids to try new things is by helping them stretch themselves. Sometimes they have an interest that we know they would be great at, but they need our encouragement to step out of their comfort zone. Keep encouraging them to take small gradual steps toward their goal(like jumping off the high dive for the first time). It might take dozens of attempts to walk up the ladder, taking one step onto the board, then two, then three, then stepping onto the edge, until they are finally ready to jump off!
As their confidence grows, so will their ability to try new things.
Stay Away From Criticism & Comparisons
Nothing tears down a child's confidence more quickly than "criticism." So whatever our children attempt, whether writing their name for the first time, baking a cake, or riding a skateboard, it's our job to acknowledge their efforts, no matter the outcome.
Equally damaging is using comparisons to "motivate" our kids. Comparisons of any type communicate to our kids that they are not "good enough" and are not loved for who they are and what they can do.
Psychologist and parent author Carl Pickhardt believes "the enemies of confidence are discouragement and fear." If our kids feel embarrassed for trying, they will become discouraged. And if anytime they try, they are met with comparison or criticism; they will back off and be afraid to try again.
Let's look for effort, not outcome. Progress, not perfection.
3. Reframing "Failure"
Inevitably, our kids will meet with failure and disappointment, and helping them "reframe" failure as an opportunity and stepping stone to success, is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our kids.
One way to help our kids reframe "failure" is by sharing inspirational stories of others who have succeeded not in spite of their failures but because of them.
One such example is Serena Williams.
"I don't like to lose—at anything—yet I've grown most not from victories but setbacks. I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fail."
She is an incredible example of "practice and perseverance." She used her setbacks and failure to become one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
Who inspires your child to keep going? We have examples all around us—not just in the sports world. Introduce your kids to such "greats" so they can learn and be inspired by them.
Another way to support our kiddos when they face challenges, mistakes, or failure is by validating their experience.
Facing "failure" is not easy. I like Serena's choice of words-we teach our kids to "recover." That means there will be a time of sadness, anger, frustration, disappointment, regret, and pain BEFORE we can get up and try again.
Listen to how they feel and validate their experience. Show empathy and understanding. Once they are ready, teach them to reflect by asking themselves a few questions:
What did I do well?
What kept me from reaching my goal?
What would I do differently next time?
How can I use my strengths to grow from this situation?
Our kids will continue to grow in their confidence to the degree that they can recover and reflect on their past experiences.
Your kiddo will be OKAY.
When we see our kids struggling and lacking confidence, it is easy for us to catastrophize. But, instead of jumping to the future, we invite you to stay in the present and remember that our kids may not be super "confident" in many areas—yet!
Confidence comes with time, brain maturity, and practice. We can do our part by meeting them where they are at, taking whatever confidence they possess in whatever area, and building from there.
How will you start?
We would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
Until next time…
Coco & Vicky
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