Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Building confidence in children:

We can find ways around obstacles in our path & tackle a task ahead of us but how do you help a child face challenges?
By Motherpedia
Date: February 05 2015
Tags: self-esteem,
Editor Rating:

One of the most critical lessons to teach children about success is the principle of ‘stick-to-it-iveness’, according to educator and author, Dr Michelle Borba, “If kids are to survive and succeed in this competitive world, they must learn to hang in there and not quit,” she says.

“Perseverance, or not giving up, often makes the critical difference between success and failure in both childhood and adulthood. Does a child have the inner strength and stamina to ‘keep on keeping on’, or will he be plagued by self-defeat, unwilling to give it his best shot—and quite possibly fall just short of success?”

Dr Borba says the skills of perseverance increase children’s potential for success because kids learn to bounce back and not let setbacks get them down.

“These are the exact skills today’s kids need to handle ups and downs for the rest of their lives.”

Red Flags

Dr Borba says there are several indicators to be aware of.

  • Reluctance to try new tasks because of overriding concern that she’ll fail or make a mistake.
  • Easily discouraged when she faces difficulties or setbacks.
  • Needs encouragement or the promise of a reward to complete a challenging task.
  • Often becomes defensive or blames others when she makes mistakes.
  • Unwilling to try again if she is not successful with a task.
  • Doesn’t recognise that the way you improve is by working harder; feels that success is more a matter of luck.
  • Frequently says negative things about herself when she falls short of success.
  • Devastated if she isn’t successful or doesn’t get the highest grade. 
  • Becomes overly frustrated, upset or quick to anger when something becomes difficult.

“If this sounds like your child, it’s important they learn that success is a matter of hard work and that making mistakes is a part of life,” Dr Borba says.

What can you do to help?

"Once you figure out why your child is quitting, you’ll be better able to find solutions and increase his stick-to-itiveness," Dr Borba says. She has provided a list of common reasons kids give up. Do any apply to your child?

  • Fear of failure - too much emphasis is placed on success, the grade, the trophy or the reward.
  • Unrealistic expectations - the task or placement is too advanced or difficult.
  • Fear of letting you down - your child feels that your love is conditional and based on his success.
  • Expectation of rescue - someone else always finishes the project, task, chore or assignment.
  • Perfectionism - quitting is easier than the stress of not measuring up to his standards.
  • Learning or emotional challenges - learning, neurological or emotional problem impedes his ability to follow through and stick to a task.
  • Short attention span - she has difficulty concentrating, has ADHD or other attention deficit and is easily distracted.
  • Stress - recent trauma, family discord or illness makes focusing difficult.
  • Fear of humiliation - your child doesn’t want to lose face among peers or others.

"Take time to explain the meanting of 'perseverance'; that it means 'not giving up' or 'hanging in there'. Then use the word at fitting times to help your kid understand its importance. When he sticks to a task, say: 'That’s perseverance. You hung in there even though it was hard'.

"It's also important to show your child that you don't give up on a task even when things are difficult," she says.

"Before you start a new task, make sure he overhears you say: 'I’m going to persevere until I am successful'. Help them by creating a family motto about perseverance, write it on an index card and put it in your children's bedrooms or in family areas."

Expectation management

Dr Borba says that one reason kids quit is that they’re burdened by unrealistic expectations.

"Expectations should gently stretch your child’s capabilities and expand her potential without snapping her confidence. To make sure the expectations you set for your child follow this rule, ask yourself the following questions."

  • Is my child developmentally ready for the tasks I’m requiring, or am I pushing her beyond her internal timetable? 
  • Is my expectation fair and reasonable, or am I expecting too much? 
  • Is what I’m expecting something my child wants or something I want more for myself? 
  • Am I setting the kind of expectations that tell my child I believe she’s responsible, reliable andworthy?

"If you discover your expectations are unrealistic, it may be time to pull your child from that accelerated class, the local sporting competition or the music or dance group. To continue with unrealistic expectations only sets your kid up for discouragement and a feeling of failure, leading her to want to give up."


"Watch your child a little more closely when she’s performing a task she usually gives up on: practicing the piano, reading her book, doing homework. Without her knowing, time her to see the usual length of time she works before she quits. Jot down the average then share this and encourage her to work one minute more (or a relatively reasonable additional length). Set a timer for that length of time and stress that she must keep working until the timer goes off.

"Your goal is to keep gently stretching her work time until eventually it is twice as long. The stretching process will take a while, so make sure you are realistic with your expectations, and keep reinforcing her efforts."

Erase the notion that mistakes are bad

"Children cannot learn to persevere unless they recognise how to deal with failure. In fact, making mistakes is a big part of how kids learn. Succeeding depends on sticking with their efforts and not letting setbacks get them down."

Dr Borba suggests five ways to help a child understand that mistakes are not fatal and are a chance to start again. 

  • It's okay to make a mistake - kids want to please us and can become stressed by it. Give your child permission to fail and help her recognise that mistakes can be positive learning experiences. 
  • Admit your own mistakes - if you own up to your errors, it helps your child recognise that everyone makes mistakes. 
  • Show acceptance - the quickest way for children to lose the notion that mistaks are fatal is for them to feel we accept their response to their errors.
  • Show them how to bounce back - when you make a mistake, explain your error and what you learned from it. For example: 'I learned I need to put my keys in the same place every day.'
  • Give them a bounce back statement - saying a simple phrase can help your child 'hang in' there. Find a phrase he's comfortable with so he can say it to himself, such as: 'I made a mistake. Now I'll correct it. I can turn this around.'
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