Building Confidence in Teens: 4 Unique Child Psychology Strategies

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

Even the most resilient of teens will have dips in their confidence.

How can we keep their “confidence jar” topped up, so they have plenty of reserves when someone or something threatens to empty the jar?

I’m a UK clinical child psychologist and have supported families for over twenty years both in the NHS and my independent clinic.

Here are my four top strategies for building confidence in teens.

The strategies I will outline are as follows:

  1. Find their values
  2. Model optimism
  3. Find healthy role models
  4. Embrace differences
a teenage boy playing the drums

1. Find Their Values and Build Your Teen’s Confidence

Young people who have strong values and are guided by these in everyday life are happier and more satisfied than those who don’t.

Understanding and living by your values creates meaning and purpose in life.

Some teenagers live life trying to be like others or behaving a certain way because they feel they should. This can lead to a sense of emptiness that I believe is linked to poor mental well-being.

What’s important to you as a family?

What’s important to your child?

If you don’t know the answers, spend some time over the next few days and weeks reflecting.

Once you have a key set of values, encourage your child to do something small each day that helps them live in accordance with their values.

For example, if fairness and justice are important to them, they could aim to be kind to someone in school who has been marginalised or bullied, or contribute their views in a discussion about justice in a religious studies lesson.

I have written an article about why values are so important for mental health and building confidence in teens, which will give you more insight into this under-valued aspect of well-being. You can download a set of my values cards for free in the article!

If your child finds it hard to open up to you, read my article called When Your Child Won’t (Or Can’t) Talk About Their Feelings. You’ll find it really helpful!

a teenage girl in school uniform sitting at a school desk

2. Model Optimism to Build Self confidence in Your Teenager

Optimism is healthy.

However, you may have heard of something called “toxic positivity”, which is unhelpful.

Toxic positivity is the denial or invalidation of a range of feelings, in favour of a “think positive and stop complaining” approach. You can read more about it here.

Optimism and toxic positivity are very different.

As this article on having an optimistic outlook explains, optimists tends to engage in healthier behaviours which benefit their mental health.

For example, optimists focus more on the problem itself rather than on managing emotions that may result from the problem, and are less likely to simply ignore the problem.

Optimists have a greater sense of control and ownership, and I think this is vital when growing up.

Incidentally, optimists also live longer and have a better quality of life!

A tip for modelling optimism is to try to look at a problem or difficulty from a variety of angles, before choosing how to respond.

For instance, if a child’s school residential trip is cancelled, it is valid and understandable that they will be upset.

However, after a few days you could help them model new ways of looking at the situation, such as: “We will be able to use the money to take you on a family holiday instead”.


3. Find Healthy Role Models

We learn about who we want to be by observing others.

For many young people, famous people serve as role models.

But pay attention to who your child admires and follows. Are the people your child admires sending out healthy messages?

Do the messages build your child up. For example, embrace differences, be kind or try to make a difference in the world?

Or are they focused on appearance or wealth or a superficial image that lacks any substance?

It may sound judgmental but public figures, especially celebrities, are so powerful these days and they can have a massive influence on children’s self-image and confidence.

Encourage open debate about the people your child admires.

The gymnast Simone Biles is a great role model because she is hard-working, a great team player, and open about her mental health.

The environmentalist Greta Thunberg has strong and unwavering values and does not allow others’ opinions of her to sway her.

Marcus Rashford is not only a famous footballer but campaigns for children and families living in poverty.

It’s healthy for your child to have a clear view on why they follow or like someone.

How are healthy role models related to building confidence in teens?

They contribute to a clear sense of identity in your teen, of “this is who I am and this is who I admire”.

This clear sense of who they are builds their confidence. It helps them make clear decisions about their lives in a way which fits with their values.

teen boys taking a selfie

4. Embrace Differences For Confidence Building in Young People

It is safer to be one of the crowd. You are much less likely to risk rejection.

Many young people feel they must hide even tiny differences or aspects of themselves that stand out.

This can lead to a confused sense of self and strong feelings of shame at the “hidden” parts.

Confidence is likely to nose-dive because the young person doesn’t have a strong sense of who they are. They probably believe that if they were to “be themselves”, they could be rejected.

Before a recent party my teenage daughter must have tried on about 20 outfits. She wasn’t sure how dressy or casual everyone else’s outfits would be. Her mission was not to stand out.

So in the end she chose a plain black outfit, instead of her favourite one, which made me sad.

It’s tough.

We are going against the grain but we must try to help young people celebrate differences.

Many young celebrities are now speaking out about this, which may make it easier.

What can we do to help our children embrace their differences?

  1. Name them with pride. For example: You think differently to other people and that is fantastic. Or: You are a strong and athletic young woman and it doesn’t matter that you have a different body shape to your friends.
  2. Encourage role models who embrace difference.
  3. Encourage your child to nurture friendships with others who celebrate difference rather than act like sheep.
A female teenage swimmer celebrating winning a race

Related Articles

If you have a tween and you want to support their emerging independence whilst ensuring their safety and wellbeing, here’s a guide to Balancing Safety and Independence For Your Tween.

If you have a teen with low self-esteem, you will find our article about teen self-esteem activities invaluable. You will also want to read this article: Getting Help For Teenage Low Self Esteem.

If your teen is also showing attention seeking behaviour which might be related to insecurity or low confidence, read our article: Is Attention Seeking Behaviour In Teens Normal?

Do you want to help your teenager achieve their goals? Our article: SMART Goals for Teens: Help your Teen to Happiness and Success will help you.

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.

Building Confidence in Teens in the UK

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