We often use the word ‘confidence’, yet we rarely stop to define it or think about the meaning we invest in this term. Psychologists don’t often talk about confidence, preferring to rely on other constructs instead, such as ‘self-efficacy’ – the belief a person has about reaching their goals, or an expectation that one can master a situation to produce a positive outcome.
Confidence is not a personality trait, but is domain- and context-based, making it situation-specific. So your son may feel confident about his ability to solve maths tasks, but not confident when it comes to going out with girls.
Confidence is important for:
- The choices we make
- Our level of effort and motivation
- How we feel about ourselves, others or the task at hand
- How long we persist when we confront obstacles
- The quality of functioning
- Resilience to adversity
- Vulnerability to depression or stress
- Adoption and success of healthy behaviour changes
Importantly, we need to realise a child’s level of motivation, affective states and actions are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true. If they regard themselves as confident, they will act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as not.
Research identifies five possible sources of confidence – numbered below in their level of efficacy, with number one being the most effective:
1 Direct experience This is, essentially, the goals we’ve already achieved. So if we get a good grade in maths, we start believing that we can do well at maths.
2 Role-models The success of people we admire is motivating, so we tend to copy their skills, knowledge and attitude. The closer our role-models are to us in age, gender, life or career trajectory, the more chances we have to base our confidence on their achievements.
3 Encouragement Other people’s belief in us counts, and this is especially true if we respect the person who is encouraging us.
4 Feelings Our moods and reaction to stress is what matters here. If we get stressed about doing something, we’ll avoid it or do it badly. So learning to cope with stress will increase confidence.
5 Imaginal experiences These are about imagining how we would do something, for example imagining successfully passing a verbal examination or a driving test.
Confidence generally follows rather than precedes achievements. So the best we can do as parents is to expose our kids to challenges that are difficult but achievable, too.
If evidence of achievement isn’t there yet, we can use imaginal experiences to create a desired future image of oneself – one’s Best Possible Self. Encourage your teen to write, or visually create,
a future auto-portrait following these instructions: ‘Imagine that you’ve achieved what you aimed for, that your best potentials have come to be realised. Write about and vividly imagine yourself in that future.’
This exercise enhances confidence and optimism, helps achieve a better integration between priorities and goals, and increases happiness. The idea is to make the Best Possible Self tangible enough to encourage actions to ensure this future self comes true.
Browse: self-efficacy pages at inyurl.com/mu6n3tr
Learn: about positive psychology, positive parenting, positive education or positive psychology coaching by taking an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology at the Anglia Ruskin University