6 tips to build confidence in children

Updated: Sep 8



To build confidence in children, it is first important to understand a little more about how confidence affects us.


Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura undertook numerous studies to prove that the area of self-confidence known as self-efficacy enhanced human accomplishment and personal wellbeing. He found that increased confidence enhances the ability to:

  1. Try new things

  2. Rebound after failure or making a mistake

  3. Be more resilient and persistent

  4. Sustain effort for longer

  5. Attribute failure to lack of effort compared to lack of ability

However, he also found that low confidence created the opposite detrimental effects, such as:

  1. Fear of failure

  2. Lack of effort

  3. Anxiety

  4. Stress

  5. Depression

  6. Attribution of failure to your own ability, not your effort


An article from the College Foundation of North Carolina summarises Bandura’s confidence research in the following quotation:

‘Self confident people are more successful in all areas of life.’

This is why, at Life on Time and in our app youHQ, confidence is one of our founding coaching principles. For the best chance of long-term success and wellbeing it is vital to build confidence in children.




We were lucky enough to speak with a Premier League sport psychologist Dr Karl Steptoe. The lead sport psychologist at Loughborough University, Karl gave us some really helpful insights on how to build confidence in children and young people.





6 tips to help build confidence in children


1. Don’t leave it to chance!


When looking to build confidence in children, it is essential to know that it is controllable. Dr Karl Steptoe notes that the presence of confidence is not ‘mythical’ in the way it comes and goes; by having a plan to build confidence, you can help improve the performance and wellbeing of your child.


2. There is no quick fix.


Unfortunately, when looking to build confidence in children there is no quick fix. Karl reports that we need to continually monitor the ‘battle between focusing on long term success and short term results.’


Sometimes it’s very easy for us all to get caught up with results rather than the process of learning, which can end up creating negative emotions for the child, parent and teacher.


3. Build a plan around the child


It’s very easy, when looking to build confidence in children, to look at what others are doing. However, what makes one child confident is different to another. Karl advises that it is best to ask the individual child what makes them feel confident.


Getting them to look back at previous experiences when they have been confident and doing a ‘small audit’ of what they did prior to the event so it can be replicated, can really help. It could be simply to do with their sleep, practice or clarity on a plan from a teacher or coach. It’s not about remaking the wheel, as every child will likely to have felt confident about something before, even if it was just a feeling of being certain of something.


Karl uses the great analogy of a ‘confidence battery’ to help his clients visualize and understand what effects their confidence. He asks them which things ‘charge the confidence battery’ and which things ‘drain’ it. Asking your child these questions can help them visualize and identify the events and actions which can be implemented into to a plan to build their confidence.


4. Increase their sources of confidence

Karl notes that to help build confidence in children, it’s vital to add sources of confidence which are not purely based on their last performance or experience, as relying on these inevitably creates a fragile, easily breakable form of confidence.

‘The most confident performers I work with have multiple measures of success’ Dr Karl Steptoe

Therefore, to help build confidence in children, we need make sure they are not just focusing on black or white performance indicators, such as winning or losing, or passing or failing an exam.


New indicators need to be created and focused upon involving development, learning and progression. If a child gets a bad result or loses a match they can still come back with some ‘psychological return on that day.’ They may have had a bad day, but if they have learnt how to ask for support or have persisted and worked hard throughout, they have succeeded in learning some important skills.


Another source of confidence should come from surrounding the child with a team who can help them build confidence. Karl notes its;

‘It’s unfair to expect a child to build confidence on their own’

Parents are especially important in this role. Karl expresses that it can be easy for them to unintentionally knock confidence in their children by asking questions that lead the child to focus more on results, compared to the process of learning and developing.

5. Ask them to engage with stories which will help them in the future


It’s very easy for us all to focus on narratives in our minds which aren’t beneficial in helping us in the future. When looking to build confidence in children, we need to teach them how to challenge and reshape the unhelpful stories in their minds that could affect their future.


Parents have a large part to play in this as they can help challenge these stories and find ways of promoting more helpful ones. Karl notes that it can be difficult to engage children in these processes, so it is important to be creative.


For example, to help challenge the way his performers reflect on a performance, Karl asks them to leave voice notes and simulate ‘match of the day’ interviews, so they have to talk about their performance after the fact as if they were talking to a TV crew. He notes that by doing this his performers speak more highly of their performance, leading to a story which is helpful for their future performances.


There is no right or wrong about which story a child picks: it’s about finding the story that is helpful to the child moving forward. Try asking them what they think is helpful for them to think about and what about that is going help serve them in future?


6. Set achievable goals – but don’t hold the bar too high


Setting goals is a key skill when looking to build confidence in children. However it is imperative to make sure the goals are achievable, and you are judging their performance on a scale realistic for their age.


Karl explains that many parents unknowingly expect their child to behave and perform like a mini adult, but he believes that’s just not realistic. It is important for children to feel success by setting achievable goals. Unobtainable ones will damage inevitably damage their confidence.



For more information, please listen to our podcast. If you are looking for specific help with sport specific confidence, get in touch with Dr Karl Steptoe via his website: A Moment to Perform.


If you are concerned about staff or student wellbeing at your school we have an innovative platform, which can help you monitor and improve wellbeing and personal development. Find out more about youHQ here.

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