Giving Children Confidence and Helping them Stand Up for Themselves

Confidence and self-assertion for kids

Many children suffer from low self-confidence. Symptoms can include excessive shyness, separation anxiety, as well as a negative attitude toward themselves and others.

Life is more challenging for a child that lacks confidence.

As parents, we are there to show them what confidence looks like and how they can be assertive without becoming aggressive.

It is important to give children the tools of confidence, because many behaviour problems come from a lack of self-esteem.

Sharing stories about confidence can help to improve behaviour and the way your child thinks

“If we tell children what they should or shouldn’t do, it doesn’t have as much impact on them as a story because a story builds in the experience. It’s a way of teaching them about life.”

Psychologist Richard Landis

Build a child's confidence and self assurance through storytelling, books and play

Symptoms of low self-confidence in children

There are many ways that low-self confidence manifests, so pay attention for indications that a child may be struggling:

Using negative words to describe themselves or others.

“I’m so stupid” is a classic thing that you’ll hear from adults as well as children. This self-talk is a dead giveaway to low self confidence and you’ll probably find that they call themselves even worse things in their heads (adults, with greater vocabulary and experience, are the worst at this form of self-putdown and one that we all do from time to time. Take my advice: forgive yourself. No one else can).

Not wanting to play with others, and keeping to themselves.

You know, the kid that stands on the edge of the playground  or the one who watches rather than joins in. A classic symptom of low self confidence. As a side tip, you can often treat this symptom by treating the child like they’re playing a game and joining them in their watching (be careful not to make it condescending  though). You’ll quickly find that they get into it and before long get bored of your company and rush off to play with the other kids. Remember though: you’ve treated the symptom not the cause – they’ll probably be back on the edge of the playground tomorrow…

Using coping strategies to hide low confidence.

This is particularly difficult to spot but is probably best unmasked by asking yourself “What does your child do when they fail at something?” You can often tell from their response (strategy) how confident they are in themselves. My daughter for example is very good at getting someone else to do whatever it is she’s just failed at, so I spend time boosting her confidence and the idea that she will succeed if she keeps at it and tries again (hence my recent children’s story on perseverance). It is important to note that all human use strategies to deal with things, so look out for strategies that allows the child to avoid (the) problems and prevents the development of the skills they’re needing to learn at whatever stage they’re at. More on coping strategies here.

Fighting (and bullying or being bullied)

Picking unnecessary fights, being mean (with or without the “bully” label) and indeed being the object of such attention are all signs that your child needs some help with their self confidence and control.

Of course there are many other symptoms and effects of low confidence in children so what can you do should you think your child needs a little help?

How to build self-confidence and assertiveness in your kids

Encourage your child to show enthusiasm and celebrate their accomplishments.

Celebrating even the smallest accomplishments is good for children of any age. Letting them see that you are proud of what they have done will boost self-esteem.

Think of the refrigerator door as the “wall of fame”. Whether they have a painting or picture that was done or a certificate for being good at school that day, your child will see that they are valued, and it will encourage further good behavior.

Does the “Wall of Gaylord” from Meet the Fockers ring any bells?

A good laugh in the film, but it does have serious and effective roots for building confidence and self-reliance.

Play your kids games with your kids to build physical confidence

Playing with your child can also boost confidence, but it is also extremely important to let the child choose what you are going to play.

Activities that are started by kids generally hold their attention longer, and they feel like they chose something that Mum or Dad finds interesting or “worthy” of doing.

My daughter is smaller than average and one thing she (and I) love to play is mock wrestling and “escape” games. These involve her pushing me over, stopping me from getting up and her (successfully) escaping from me while I’m trying to hold on to her and shouting that she won’t escape, that I’m the strongest and biggest.

This has had a hugely positive effect on her physical confidence and while she’s still careful around bigger kids (boys in particular) in the playground, she no longer shy’s away from chase and tag games. Plus wrestling build connection and trust between us not to mention leaving us in fits of giggles.

You might also want to check out one of my earliest video posts about why she (used to) insist that I was the monster rather than the other way round: How children deal with things that scare them.

Share stories with your children to boost confidence and put confidence in context

There are thousands of children’s stories and books that do (or can be) related to building confidence and self-assertiveness. The key to selecting the right one is to find specific context in which your child seems to need the help (though don’t be surprised if it’s actually somewhere completely different).

Even classic children’s fairy tales, such as “Beauty and the Beast”, or ‘The Ugly Duckling” speak to self-image confidence issues and allow you to then have a conversation with them about the themes in the story, such as not judging people by their looks.

Help boost kids self-confidence and assertiveness with the right stories and books
Teaching self-image confidence to children through stories and books

The Captain Joe Series© was designed by Emily Madill, who published the Captain Joe books as a way for parents to teach children about productive imagination. The books are a way to introduce the notion of “Thoughts Turn into Things, so Choose the Ones that Make you Happy” to young children. Joe and his thought-zapping superpower invite kids to use their imaginations to choose thoughts that encourage self-esteem and self-confidence.

Avoid labels

Try not to label your kids or let them label themselves.

No one wants to be the Asthmatic girl or the diabetic boy.

Teach them that the traits they carry do not determine who they are.

kids with asthma can have low self-confidence. Stories are a great way of helping them understand and building their confidence
Diabetic children can really benefit from understanding their illness and using stories and books to do so can also help their confidence levels.

If your child has a condition such as asthma or diabetes, look for storybooks that acknowledge this and even celebrate it. “The ABCs of Asthma: An Asthma Alphabet Book for Kids of All Ages,” by Kim Gosselin, teaches kids what asthma is and how they can still lead normal productive lives. “Even Little Kids Get Diabetes” by Connie Pirner, is another book that explains the medical condition on a child’s level.

Make your kids responsible for something to boost confidence

Another way to boost kids’ self-confidence is by giving them jobs around the house.

Having a chore that they are responsible for helps kids develop self-reliance and channels their energy into something productive.

Boost children's confidence by building responsibility. Children's stories are a great way of doing this.

“The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Chores” by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain shows kids why it is good to help around the house. Teaching children about responsibility and how they can help other people can help them feel less helpless and more in control of their own lives. Think of the last time you learned something new that you’d previous felt quite helpless about. Didn’t you immediately want to help as many other people overcome that feeling as well?

Building children’s confidence without aggressiveness

It is tricky sometimes to encourage assertiveness and not let it go as far as aggression.

Some kids are naturally more assertive than others are (boys vs girls for example) but it is important that they all understand that they can be if needed and when and where it can be taken too far.

Children need to know it is ok to stand up for themselves.

assertiveness strategies for children

For kids of age eight and up, “Speak Up and Get Along!: Learn the Mighty Might, Thought Chop, and More Tools to Make Friends, Stop Teasing, and Feel Good About Yourself” by Scott Cooper is another book from that shows kids that the right type of persistence can get them the results they want. Kids will gain confidence by leaps and bounds if they are able to help a fellow child out of a difficult situation.

No matter which story you choose to help bolster your kids’ self-confidence, it is sure to be as fun as it is important.

Everyone deals with confidence issues during their lives, having a baseline at a young age will ensure your child has tools to get them through anything.


2 thoughts on “Giving Children Confidence and Helping them Stand Up for Themselves”

  1. Hi Ben!!
    Thanks for adding my books in your article, your site is excellent! Great writing;-) I noticed the link to Amazon from the Captain Joe Book jacket is broken. They are available through and…here are the links:

    Thanks again for including the books, I really appreciate it. Emily

    1. Thanks for spotting that Emily. I’ve updated the link and they should now all work.

      Glad you like the site and writing.

      Keep us posted on any new books you write, always keen to read and recommend new authors.


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