Build Confidence in Your Child to Help Them Meet 6 Challenges

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do your kids compare themselves to each other? Do you have a child who “pretend-cries”? Do you find yourself in a struggle at mealtimes and bedtimes?

In her book Good Inside, clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy explains what confidence really means and how confident children are more equipped to handle what life throws at them. She shows how you can help your child develop this all-important trait and start using it to deal with a variety of situations.

Read more to discover how building confidence in your child can help them meet six common challenges.

Building Confidence in Your Child

Kennedy disagrees with the common idea that confidence—in kids and adults—is all about feeling positive about yourself. Instead, she argues that confidence is being sure about who you are even when big emotions are taking place, knowing what you feel, and trusting yourself to know what feels good and what doesn’t. The opposite of self-confidence is self-doubt, and it’s the result of having your feelings invalidated so often that you can no longer be sure that what you’re feeling is real. You can build confidence in your child by helping her learn to tune into and trust herself, her feelings, and her capacity to deal with them.

(Shortform note: Kennedy’s understanding of confidence as certainty about who you are and what you feel is different from traditional views of confidence which are more focused on action and accomplishment. For example, in The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue that confidence is believing so strongly that you can do something that you’re driven to actually do it. The belief stems from mastery—you know you can do something because you’ve worked hard and pushed through past difficulties and failures.)

Kennedy recommends confidence-building as a tool to help your child meet six different challenges.

Challenge #1: Sibling Rivalry

Sibling relationships can be challenging for children and elicit unwanted behavior, such as fighting or whining. Kennedy argues this is because siblings can feel threatening to a child’s attachment needs since they can see your attention going to someone else. The difference in abilities and in the parental involvement other siblings require can also be frustrating to children. 

To help your children manage the emotions that sibling relationships generate, Kennedy suggests using the following tools: 1) empathy, 2) confidence-building, and 3) a combination of validation and boundaries. Let’s look at how building confidence in your child helps you meet this challenge.

Explain that you’ll give each child what they need, not give them each the same thing. Kennedy argues that this will help avoid comparisons in the short term and, in the long run, it will help your children define their wants and needs for themselves, not in reference to other people.

(Shortform note: The way you allocate resources to each child can certainly trigger unhelpful comparisons, but there are other ways that parents encourage this problem. Often, parents actively compare their children, or label them as “the most/least” of some trait, which can encourage competition and passive-aggressiveness and undermine confidence.)

Challenge #2: Fear, Anxiety, & Crying

Fears, anxiety, and crying—even “fake” crying—are expressions of vulnerability. Kennedy explains that when children perceive a threat, their bodies feel fear or anxiety. When they feel sadness, they cry. When they feel disconnected from their caregivers, they pretend-cry to secure that connection.

Kennedy argues that parents often shut down these expressions of vulnerability because they trigger uncomfortable feelings related to their own vulnerability. You might try to convince your child to stop being sad, anxious, or afraid, or even shame her for feeling that way. But this teaches her that these feelings are wrong and to be avoided, which leaves her unprepared for real life. Instead, support her through those feelings so she develops the tools to work through them in the future.

To help your child learn to work through her vulnerable feelings, Kennedy suggests the following tools: 1) confidence-building, 2) validation and empathy, and 3) playfulness. Let’s look at how building confidence in your child helps you meet this challenge.

Kennedy suggests starting by naming the feelings your child is experiencing and letting her know that it’s okay to feel them, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, help her brainstorm strategies to deal with a fear or anxiety, and practice the strategies with her when you know a challenging situation is coming up. Share similar feelings you’ve had in the past and how you worked through them. Let her know you’re glad she’s sharing this important information with you.

Challenge #3: Hesitancy & Shyness

When kids are shy or hesitant to join in an activity or group, parents often worry that they’re underconfident. But, as we’ve seen, Kennedy believes that confidence is about being sure of what you feel and what does or doesn’t feel good. A kid who takes her time before joining a group or activity is giving herself time to build trust in the group and situation—this shows that she’s confident about who she is and what feels good and safe for her.

If your child has a tendency to be shy or hesitant, Kennedy suggests using the tools of validation and confidence-building. Let’s look at how building confidence in your child helps you meet this challenge.

Kennedy reminds you that hesitancy can be an important life skill as your child grows into a teenager and adult who will face unsafe situations. Refrain from calling your child shy, for example, because children will identify with the labels we assign them. Instead, describe how she’s taking her time to feel comfortable. Tell your child that she’ll know when she’s ready to jump in and that there’s no rush. This demonstrates that you trust her and that she can trust herself, too.

(Shortform note: Other experts agree that hesitancy isn’t about being afraid, but there may be more to it than Kennedy implies. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain explains that introverted children are naturally cautious in new situations. This sensitivity may have survived evolution because it’s associated with other survival-enhancing attributes, such as observing carefully, looking before leaping, and processing information thoroughly. To help your hesitant child develop confidence, Cain suggests teaching her how to find a comfortable role in a group, helping her practice speaking up, and role-playing how to behave in various situations.)

Challenge #4: Frustration & Perfectionism

Children need to develop frustration tolerance because, as Kennedy explains, learning requires making mistakes and being okay with not knowing everything at first. Kids who have a tendency toward perfectionism need extra help with this because their self-worth is deeply tied to their achievements. (Shortform note: Developing frustration tolerance is important for more than being able to learn. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown explains that perfectionism fosters anxiety, depression, and addiction. It causes you to feel unable to take risks, make mistakes, or disappoint people without becoming debilitated by shame.)

To build your child’s frustration tolerance, Kennedy suggests using the tool of confidence-building. She says you should encourage a growth mindset. Be patient when your child gets frustrated and takes a while to figure things out, and be okay with getting frustrated when you’re doing something difficult.

(Shortform note: In Mindset, Carol Dweck argues that your beliefs about your intelligence and ability can help or hinder you from reaching your potential. Children learn one of two mindsets from their parents, teachers, and coaches: that qualities such as intelligence are innate and unchangeable (the fixed mindset) or that they can develop (the growth mindset).)

Kennedy also suggests that you praise kids for what’s inside them, not the outcome. She suggests that instead of saying “good job,” you remark on how hard they worked or ask questions about the process. This centers their experience instead of the product and teaches them to look inside for validation.

(Shortform note: In How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, the authors add that descriptive praise helps children notice their strengths and learn to praise themselves. To build their confidence and encourage them to validate themselves, praise specific elements of their work or process.)

Furthermore, Kennedy suggests that you reframe your role in your child’s learning: Don’t think of yourself as the teacher of the skill but as the coach showing your child how to cope with the struggle of learning.

(Shortform note: Coach your child through frustration by teaching her how to self-regulate when she gets upset. The authors of The Whole-Brain Child suggest you teach your child calming techniques such as punching pillows, stomping her feet, or counting to 10.)

Challenge #5: Bodily Autonomy & Relationships With Food

According to Kennedy, bodily autonomy enables a child to say “no” when they don’t feel comfortable with something, even if the boundary makes others upset. It’s the result of a child trusting her internal cues and feeling confident in enforcing boundaries because she knows they matter.

To foster your child’s developing bodily autonomy, Kennedy recommends using the tools of validation and confidence-building. Let’s look at how building confidence in your child helps you meet this challenge.

Assume that your child’s experience is true. When your child expresses discomfort, hesitation, or some other negative feeling, Kennedy urges you to believe her. Don’t tell her she’s exaggerating or being silly. Remind her that only she can determine what feels good or bad in her body. Describe what she’s feeling to help her learn how to explain it herself later on. When you’re not sure what she’s feeling or what’s triggering her discomfort, Kennedy suggests you simply say there’s something in the situation that feels bad to her.

Challenge #6: Separation Anxiety & Bedtime Struggles

As we’ve seen, children are evolutionarily wired to attach to their parents because this ensures their survival. Separation anxiety—which manifests as crying, tantrumming, and other behaviors that happen when you say goodbye to your child—is a result of this wiring. Kennedy explains that when you separate from her, she’ll need to retain the sense of safety your presence gives her without having you with her. At bedtime, separation anxiety is compounded by the fact that your child needs to feel safe to fall asleep.

To deal with separation anxiety, Kennedy suggests using these three tools: 1) connection, 2) confidence-building, and 3) playfulness. Let’s look at how building confidence in your child helps you meet this challenge.

Build a routine. Kennedy explains that knowing what to expect during this time will make it easier for your child to cope, which can help her feel more confident about facing the time away from you. Talk to your child about what the separation will look like and what you’ll say and do. When it’s time to separate, model confidence. If you project nervousness, your child will pick up on it, confirming her suspicions that it’s not safe to be away from you. Kennedy argues that if you project confidence, she’ll still be upset—but she’ll see that you’re sure that it’s okay for her to be away from you, so it must be.

(Shortform note: To model confidence, you have to be confident. The authors of The Whole-Brain Child argue that children can sense their parents’ underlying emotions. So, this is not the time to fake it till you make it. Instead, educate yourself on how to support your child, choose strategies you feel comfortable with, and be confident that you can use them effectively.)

Build Confidence in Your Child to Help Them Meet 6 Challenges

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Becky Kennedy's "Good Inside" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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