Confidence Building Activities for Kids

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell

Confident children can face any challenge and are not discouraged by the fear of failure. In this article I will focus on taking risks as the most powerful way to build confidence in children.

If your child stayed in their comfort zone they would never gain new skills. Their lack of confidence will expand to all areas of life.

Trying something new and enjoying it, succeeding, or even just getting through it, helps your child realise they do have the capability to try the next new thing that comes along.

They start to develop a positive self-image.

“I am a person who CAN!”

Over time, trying new things and taking risks is one of the best ways to teach your child that they can cope with any new challenge that comes along.

This is resilience, which is intimately connected with self-confidence.

It is a powerful weapon against low self-esteem.

close up of a young boy wearing glasses

The Power of Risk-Taking to Build Confidence

Children grow through risk-taking. It is crucially important at all ages.

Children learn self-confidence by taking on a challenge and accomplishing it.

The challenge cannot be too easy, or they will not get a proper sense of achievement.

Letting Go of Parental Worry

Sometimes the hardest thing for a parent is letting go and allowing your child to take a risk.

Allow them to fail or potentially be hurt.

But calculated risks can pay off massively for your child’s self-esteem.

Calculated risks for your child might include:

  • Auditioning for a school play.
  • Attempting a flip on the trampoline.
  • Going out of their depth in the swimming pool for the first time.

These “first times” are how a child progresses both in physical ability and mental strength.

Things may not go to plan and that’s okay.

As long as the risk is calculated and not reckless, whatever the outcome the most important thing is there will be plenty to learn.

For example:

“I didn’t manage the flip but I can cope even if I fall on my face!”, or “I didn’t get chosen for the main part in the show but I did a good job and I discovered I am good at dancing”.

It’s so hard to watch our children struggle.

But we should be aware of our compulsion to step in and rescue them.

Sometimes, we should step back and watch them grow.

Set an intention to try this next time your child faces a challenge. Could they have a go without parental help?

a little girl in a garden

How to Respond to “Failure”: Boosting Confidence in Children

The best way to respond if your child doesn’t succeed at something is to celebrate what they did achieve.

You can also make a big deal of what they can learn from the experience.

For example: “Wow, you have never auditioned before. What a great thing that you got out of your comfort zone. How did you do it?”

Confident kids learn from past experiences.

They develop positive self-esteem through trying again and gradually finding success.

Learning from past experiences is a vital lesson you can teach your child over time. It’s essential for them to develop emotional intelligence.

young girl happy outside

Outdoor Adventure

Outdoor time is a powerful way to skyrocket your child’s healthy self-esteem.

The outdoors is so much less predictable and “managed” than the indoors, so it allows for exciting new challenges and regular risk-taking.

What happens if I try sitting on that branch?

Is the grass soft enough to break my fall?

Outdoor time is not only fantastic for giving children confidence through exploration of the natural world.

Outdoor time gives a huge boost to wellbeing and can help prevent the development of mental health problems.

You can read more in my article about 3 “Quick Wins” to Support Your Child’s Mental Health.

Outdoor Activities for Building Confidence in Kids

Geocaching

Geocaching is so satisfying and rewarding! It is described as “the world’s largest treasure hunt”. It’s a fun way of getting physical activity whilst building your child’s confidence.

My husband and I used to take the kids geocaching a lot more when they were younger. But we still do from time to time.

Using your phone and following a set of clues, you track down geocaches hidden in nature.

Usually they are little plastic boxes filled with a log book and pencil so you can record your “find”.

Sometimes they also contain little treats for the kids, like a sticker or key ring. The idea is that if you take something, you should swap it for something else.

There are geocaches all over the world.

Download the app and have a go!

Let your child take the lead as much as possible.

Building confidence in a child requires you to show faith and trust in their decisions, and this is a perfect and risk-free opportunity for them to be leaders.

Camping

Camping can seem very daunting if you haven’t done it before, but hear me out.

Even if you have no intention of trying camping as a family, there will be plenty of opportunities for your child to try it.

Camping is brilliant for confidence-building, because it involves constant small problem-solving tasks.

Don’t know how to pitch your tent?

You’ll have to figure it out.

Not sure where to find water?

Figure it out!

Just like I have recommended with geocaching, if you do take your child camping let them take the lead and give yourself the “supportive assistant” role, in an age-appropriate way.

The little micro-moments of success you will see when your child overcomes a challenge are invaluable for building confidence in your child.

It doesn’t matter if you are on a structured campsite rather than wild camping. There are still plenty of great challenges.

On top of this, most campsites feel very safe and you will notice that children tend to have a lot more freedom than they would have at home.

Depending on their age, they can run off and explore and potentially even make new friends. This freedom is a fantastic confidence builder for children.

Camping gives them opportunities they might not otherwise get.

If you’re definitely not a camper yourself, you still have options.

In the UK we have The Scout Association and The Girl Guides, offering the most amazing confidence-building activities for kids from around age 5 right up to young adults.

Scouting is worldwide, so do look into your local organisation.

Camping is an integral part of scouts and guides (and their younger counterparts cubs and brownies).

Younger children (in the UK they are called beavers and rainbows) may learn outdoor skills like campfire cooking and map reading, in preparation for camping when they’re older.

These organisations allow your child to build confidence through constantly exposing them to new activities.

I highly recommend you look into them if you’re looking for ways to build your child’s self-confidence.

Interacting with Animals

If your child isn’t confident in social situations I recommend spending time with animals.

Animals don’t judge.

Interacting with animals can build your child’s confidence because animals can be easier to “read” and simpler in the feedback they give.

For example, they make it very clear if they like to have a scratch behind the ears! They will lean their head in towards you.

If they don’t want that tummy rub, they’ll move away.

If you have a pet, perfect. Your child will be building self-confidence through their everyday interactions with their pet.

If not, that’s okay.

How about arranging a visit to a place where your child can interact with animals?

For example, an animal sanctuary like The Retreat in Kent (UK).

building confidence in teens

Teach Your Child to Evaluate Risks for Themselves

Younger children need their parents on hand most of the time to evaluate the risk for them.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which plans and makes decisions, is not well developed.

Young children are therefore likely to be driven by their emotions rather than rational decisions.

It goes without saying that you cannot always be there as your child gets older, to evaluate risks for him.

By the time your child hits the teenage years you need them to be highly skilled at judging risk for themselves.

You need them to be able to strike a balance between playing too safe and taking risk a step too far.

The only way they will learn to do this confidently is through practise.

TAKE THE QUIZ!

Encourage Clear Values and an Independent Mind

What does your child value? What’s important to them?

It’s not much use being able to weigh up the pros and cons of taking a risk if you are prepared to do anything to impress your friends.

Behaviour like this may suggest that a young person does not have a sound sense of who they are as a person and what’s important to them.

They might need some support to identify their values.

Take a look at the article on self-esteem and my article about values.

how to build confidence in children mum and child chatting and connecting

Don’t put too much pressure on your child. They need to face challenges at their pace, when they are ready.

Many children who lack self-confidence are very sensitive about disappointing others.

Adding the weight of expectation or parental criticism will not help your child. It also risks creating negative thoughts and feelings and resentment between you.

Foster a Problem-Solving Approach

When your child is considering trying something new, talk through the pros, cons and risks from their point of view.

If the action feels too scary or risky for them, is there a way it could be adapted?

You can start with simple activities such as household chores.

Teach your child how you approach difficult tasks. Perhaps you break these down into small chunks.

For example, if you are cleaning an entire bedroom, you could make a list of different surfaces and work on these one by one.

Alternatively, perhaps you deal with difficult tasks by roping in another family member or friend else to help?

Working together is a great way of achieving something new.

Talk About Decisions in the Future and Past

Teach your child about the importance of calculated risk. Any time you hear about someone engaging in risky behaviour, you can use it as a learning opportunity.

What good things did the person gain from doing it?

Were the risks worth it?

You can also talk through your child’s past decisions and future ones, in a calm and open way.

Making decisions for them will not work, because as soon as they have to be independent, they will struggle with the skill.

So talking through as many examples as possible bits of help get them ready for adult life and the multiple risks and challenges they will face.

parent and child holding hands - close up of hands

Be a Role Model

It doesn’t matter if you are naturally risk-averse yourself.

One of the greatest gifts you can offer for your child’s confidence is to set a good example by taking small confidence-building risks yourself.

Then, share your experiences.

Did it feel uncomfortable but worth it?

Was “failure” as bad as you feared?

Model to them that negative emotions such as discomfort or even shame are manageable.

Most times, there are difficult emotions associated with any risk, but the benefits usually outweigh the difficult parts.

If you show your children this courage over and over from a young age, you will be raising confident people capable of facing almost any situation in the real world.

Confidence-Building Exercises and Activities Your Child Can Try From Home

Maybe you have already made plans to try some of the outdoor confidence-building activities I have suggested above.

Great!

If you want some ideas that don’t involve the great outdoors, here goes!

Enterprise

It’s never too early for your child to learn about business and it’s a great way to overcome self-esteem issues.

There’s nothing like developing resourcefulness and realising you can make something from nothing, for building self-esteem!

It’s important that you help your child set realistic goals, but with the right support your child is an effective way to develop resourcefulness, problem-solving, organisation and planning skills, and understanding about how the world works.

What do I mean by enterprise? Here are some ideas:

  1. Creating a YouTube account to share your ideas, skills or knowledge.
  2. Start a crochet business. Make little characters and sell them on a stall outside your house.
  3. Create and print stickers and sell them to your friends.

Community Service

Some children equate self-confidence with being good at something.

Being sporty or academic, or musical perhaps.

But a healthy way to build confidence for kids is to teach them the value in serving others.

Children of all ages can engage in community service and it’s a powerful tool for building self-confidence.

Even little children can learn that they matter and they have a contribution to make to society.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Support a charity that is gathering food or provisions packages. For example, in my local area of High Wycombe (UK) we have the One Can Trust. Your child can get involved with putting regular packages together, asking for contributions from friends or neighbours, sharing on social media (if they are older) and handing over the goods to the charity.
  2. Visit an animal shelter and spend time just being with the animals. You may have read in the media about some animal shelters which allow children to come in and read to the homeless animals. This improves the child’s reading and helps the lonely animal to feel connected, and prepares them to have social contact with humans in readiness for finding a new home. Similarly, some dog rescue centres will allow families to take their rescue dogs for walks, and this is a fantastic way of giving kids confidence as well as building the dogs’ social skills and confidence.
  3. Organise a cake sale at your school for a charity that you feel connected with. Perhaps a family friend has a medical condition and your child wants to show their support. They can gain so much confidence from taking the lead on a fundraising idea. Younger kids will need some adult support but they can still talk to their teachers and friends to get them on board, plan dates and times, bake the cakes and so on. All those little things add up to something wonderful. Afterwards your child will be able to look back and say “I did that!”.

Learn a Skill Online

Encourage your child to move outside their “comfort zone”, but not too far out.

Ask your child to draw their own “comfort zone” as an island.

On the island are all the things the child is very comfortable doing (e.g. going to cubs, playing with friends, going to school).

Building confidence in a child isn’t always about doing something that everyone else notices.

Children can gain confidence from quietly developing competence in a particular skill.

Reading my article on Free Online Education Resources for Children is a good way that you can generate lots of ideas which your child can then narrow down.

Unique ideas include coding, AI and ecology.

How to Build Confidence in Children: When Your Child is Risk-Averse

Some young people are naturally very cautious or anxious.

Whilst this protects them from danger it can hamper them from having fun, developing new skills and building confidence.

Encourage your child to move outside their “comfort zone”, but not too far out.

Ask your child to draw their own comfort zone as an island.

On the island are all the things the child is very comfortable doing (e.g. going to cubs, playing with friends, going to school).

"Comfort Zone Islands" diagram

Just offshore are things that are outside their comfort zone, such as trying a new football club and going to the school disco.

Miles away and out of reach are things that are well outside their comfort zone but things they might like to do one day, like standing for class representative on the school council.

They should aim to try the activity that is closest to their island first.

Once they have tried it a few times, they will grow in confidence and the island will also grow.

They can then move on to the next “risk”. Before they know it, their comfort zone will have grown. Islands that were once far away will now be within touching distance.

The Link Between Self-Esteem and Confidence in Children

Self-esteem and confidence are closely related but not interchangeable concepts.

Self-esteem is about a child’s overall sense of self-worth; the value that they place on themselves.

It involves a person’s beliefs and attitudes about their abilities, qualities, and attributes.

On the other hand, confidence is your child’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation or to achieve a particular goal.

It is more specific and situational.

Self-esteem and confidence are linked in that having high self-esteem can increase a person’s confidence to face new situations.

High self-esteem is connected with resilience too, meaning that your child is more likely to have positive responses to setbacks, learning from them and trying again.

Self-esteem activities are naturally confidence-building.

If your child is a teen or a tween, take a look at our article on Powerful Teen Self-Esteem Activities {+ Printable Workbook} for some different ways to grow self-esteem.

Raising Confidence and Self Esteem: Protective vs Overprotective

As with so many areas of life, ultimately it comes down to balance.

Sometimes you need to increase your level of protectiveness (for example, if your child is being bullied), and at other times you should step back and “expose” your child to coping with their own problems and challenges.

Responsive parenting is about figuring out which one to do, when! Aim for “good enough”, not perfect, and you will be doing a great job.

By stepping back and letting them learn, you will be building their sense of self-worth.

Related Articles

21 Transformational Self-Esteem Quotes for Kids

3 Easy Self-Esteem Games for Kids

Resilience Activities for Kids: Creative Ideas and Tips for Parents

Getting Help for Teenage Low Self Esteem

10 Best Self Esteem Books For 10 Year Olds

SMART Goals for Teens: Help your Teen to Happiness and Success

What Are Your Child’s Behavioural and Emotional Strengths?

Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.

In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.


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