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“How do you help a child with low self-confidence? Well, I guess the first starting point would be why do they have low self-confidence in the first place?

I remember when I first graduated, I was working in a children's home for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and some of them their behaviour was extremely bad.

A Brick Through a Window

One of the things we wanted to do was try and bolster their self-confidence, but I learned very quickly that when they did something right, and I praised them, the end result of that wasn't them going “Oh good, I’ve got more self-confidence”.

What happened invariably was they get a brick and throw it through a window because their self-confidence was so incredibly low actually they didn't think they deserved praise. They didn't think they deserved to be told that they'd done something right.

‘I’m Just No Good’

So, I guess one of the big questions is why have they got low self-confidence in the first place?

I work a lot with people in business and I coach people in their 30s, 40s, even 50s and I discovered people saying things like, ‘Well, I can't really do public speaking, I'm not very good when I get on the phone, I can't really do this communication business because I've got no confidence in it”.

All of that will link back to some experience that they've had somewhere along the line, probably when they were a teenager. In fact, when speaking in front of other people gives you huge levels of stress, they have a negative experience of it and because of that their self-confidence in that area is diminished.

Oracy and Self-Confidence

So, as much as self-confidence can diminish because of experience, I think it's also very true that self-confidence can grow because of experience as well.

My field is around communication and it’s no big surprise that I think oracy can be a really, helpful tool in raising children's self-confidence and young people's self-confidence as well.

You Can’t Beat Trial, Error and Experience

If they have that ability to articulate what it is that they think, then all answers are good, not necessarily correct - it's one of the things that Independent Thinking has said for a long time.

If they can just articulate what it is they think and speak it in front of other people without fear of criticism of their ideas, I think that's a really, positive thing, because the truth is nobody is born a fantastic communicator - it's only through trial and error and experience that we get any better at it at all.

Wrong But Helpful

So, listen, I've got no answers here - in the words of George Box ‘All models are wrong, some of them are helpful’ - I've just got ideas which are inevitably wrong but might potentially be a little bit helpful.

So, a little model I would use is when somebody's got an idea to communicate, is what's my point, what am I trying to say and what do I think?

And then, why do I think it?

And then lastly, is there some way I can illustrate that idea that I’ve got - is it a story? Is it an example? Something just to back up what I’m saying?

The Power of a Picture

I think that little model of ‘what do I think, why do I think it and how do I bring it alive in some way with a picture’ is a really, really helpful way of trying to get people to articulate their ideas.

So, what's my point, why does it matter and how can I illustrate it? I think if that little model is implemented then any child, any young person and any adult can start to gradually grow their self-confidence because the more we do, the better we get at it.

We won't get confidence in writing, as that follows, but if we've got confidence in articulating ourselves speaking out, I think that's a powerful thing.

Exam Confidence

And also, this follows into revision and our written work as well. I do a lot of work on revision skills and bolstering exam confidence and, one of the things I discover all the time when I’m working with young people is that if they have a little experience and they realize that they can learn using a strategy or a way of revising suddenly that confidence level starts to grow.

Three Things

So, three things there really. One is there's always a reason why people have low self-confidence, the second thing is that there are things that not only diminish self-confidence, but they also raise self-confidence.

Oracy is a key to improving self-confidence.

And third and finally, I would say a little success raises confidence a little bit at a time.

The Path to Mastery

One final thought, I’m currently home-schooling my five-year-old and what I’ve discovered is when I praise his effort, he tries harder and, effort I would suggest is a path to mastery. So, the more I can get him to try, the better he's going to get - whether it's reading, writing, whatever it might be. So, rather than praising the end result, it's about praising the effort and that also means they try harder, they can see themselves improve and confidence level goes up - that's my final thought.”

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About the author

Tim Benton

Tim Benton

Tim has a great reputation for his work building confidence, employability skills and learning ability in all young people. He is the author of The Brain Box with David Hodgson.

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