How to Boost Kids’ Confidence – Without Going Overboard

How to Boost Kids’ Confidence – Without Going Overboard

Sometimes being your child’s biggest cheerleader can backfire. Here’s what to do instead.


By Betsy Voreacos

We all think our kids are the greatest. Or rather, we know it. Our kid is the smartest. The most creative. The best athlete. The most artistic. The funniest. The kindest.

And that’s okay – after all, one of our jobs as parents is to help build our kids’ self-confidence. But sometimes, being your child’s biggest cheerleader can backfire.

“Parents need to remember that self-worth/self-esteem (ego) should be grounded in self-efficacy,” says Richard Horowitz, PhD, author of Family Centered Parenting. “That [means] praising and rewarding outcomes, not potential. Helping our children set realistic goals and rewarding their success is what builds a sustainable positive self- image.”

While some parents argue that it’s impossible to overinflate a child’s ego, believing their kids need all the kudos they can get to reach their full potential as adults – quite the opposite may be true, according to clinical psychologist Mark Ettensohn, PsyD.

“Children who receive unrealistic praise from caregivers develop expectations for themselves and others that are too high,” says Dr. Ettensohn. “These idealized notions set them up to feel like failures when they inevitably aren't able to sustain such levels of praise in the adult world. For such individuals, normal criticism from a boss or romantic partner can feel catastrophic. This is what happens when a person's sense of self is based on idealized notions of perfection rather than a lived experience of being loved for who he or she really is on the inside.”

More from P&G everyday: My Secret to Raising a Confident Daughter

So, what do we do? How do we keep from overinflating our children’s egos, while still building their self-confidence and resilience? These tips can help:

1. Be realistic when accessing your child’s talents. Keep in mind that kids all develop at different rates. Today’s “best” may be at the bottom of the barrel come tomorrow. The sooner you and your child learn that, the better.

2. Remind yourself that it’s really okay if your kid falls in the middle of the pack. And make sure she knows it as well.

3. Don’t use words like best, fastest, or smartest. Make sure he understands that his character is more important than his performance on the ball field.

4. Resist the urge to push for perfection.

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5. Teach your children that it’s totally okay to lose.

6. Concentrate on giving meaningful, rather than empty, praise.

7. Even if you really do have a superstar, don’t make her the entire focus of the family.

8. And most importantly, make sure your child knows that he is loved, whether he leads the team to the state championship or misses the game-winning shot.

If he learns this lesson early, he’s got a great shot at being a happy, well-adjusted adult later on!

How do you promote self-confidence without going overboard?


Betsy Voreacos lives with her family a stone’s throw from Manhattan. An overly involved mother of three active children, Betsy has always been acutely aware of her shortcomings as a parent, not to mention those of her children. A freelance writer and blogger, she documents her life in the brutally honest Old Minivans Die Hard.

Image ©iStock.com/UberImages


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