We all want our kids to be successful, to be people who make an impact in the world. No good parent looks at his kid and says, “I just want him to be average,” or “If she could be a follower, I’d be so proud.” Still, the world is full of average people, and society is filled with folks who are followers. At what point do parental desires fail to boost our kids past the
reality that more people are average than are great, and what can we do to make sure our kids don’t fizzle into the haze of averageness?
Every year, I have the opportunity to volunteer at Kurt Warner’s Ultimate Football Experience, an event that helps raise money to support his First Things First Foundation. The event allows people the opportunity to buy a spot on a flag football team that is quarterbacked by a celebrity athlete. Before the games begin, participants get to ask the celebrity QBs questions, and this year someone asked, “What makes a great quarterback?” Everyone on the panel agreed that confidence was the #1 attribute of an effective quarterback. Not natural talent or arm strength or charisma.
Now before you tune out because you think this is just some football post, let me explain that an NFL quarterback is the perfect illustration of a good leader. He not only has to have the confidence that he can beat the 11 men on the other team, he has to have confidence enough to convince the 10 men in his huddle that he is worth following. That’s no simple task, and certainly not one for a person who is unsure of himself. If confidence is an essential trait for the leader of a football team, can’t the same hold true for the owner of a business or a political leader or even a stay-at-home mom?
When I saw the reaction of the 11 football pros all agreeing that confidence is the key to being an effective leader, I began to think about how I can start laying the foundation for my son to develop confidence in his own life. This was not something I could pass on as simply as teaching him to tie his shoes, this was an abstract and daunting task.
During team stretching, I got 2-3 minutes to talk to Kurt Warner about how he teaches confidence to his own kids. To my surprise, he admitted that his kids didn’t inherit his confidence through his DNA, and that it was an ongoing teaching process for him as a father. Just because a father is confident, that doesn’t mean his kids will be. It takes intentional effort.
In reflecting on my talk with Kurt, books I’ve read, and other conversations I’ve had on this topic, I came up with five steps that we parents can take to be intentional about raising a confident kid:
- Let him take risks. In a world of helicopter parents, we have to be intentional about letting our kids learn to deal with life without having to buffer them from any and all frustration, pain, conflict, or difficulty. No kid will learn confidence if Mommy and Daddy are always there to catch them before they fall. Part of being confident is knowing how to face challenges. (One great resource for learning to let your kids take appropriate risks is the book and blog Free Range Kids – highly recommended).
- Teach her that competence breeds confidence. Sure, raw talent can be an advantage, but hard work can make all the difference when facing conflict or competition. When you are well-studied and well-practiced, you can rely on the confidence that your training has prepared you for what you are about to face. When you’ve put in the work, you will be more confident in your ability to produce results (and an added bonus: hard work will add to your talent level).
- Teach him the difference between confidence and cockiness. Sometimes, the line between confidence and cockiness is very thin. When you are truly confident, you do not need to rely on arrogance to prove yourself, your results will speak for themselves.
- Give him challenges, not easy wins. Kids hate to lose. Most of them would rather challenge little brother to a wrestling match than challenge big brother. Many adults think that a child’s self-esteem is built on achievement, no matter what level of difficulty. As a former teacher, I found that belief only produces a false, thin veneer of confidence — one that crumbled when facing a real challenge. Instead of letting them win because you don’t want to make them feel bad, encourage them to keep trying until they really beat you. Facing an easy challenge may feel good for a short time, but pushing through big challenges is where deep, lasting confidence is shaped.
- Show her confidence by being confident. I’ll be honest, this is a hard one for me; I’m not naturally a confident person. If you want your child to develop confidence, you have to be willing to model that confidence in your own life. How can you encourage your child to take risks when all you ever do is play it safe? Does your child see you opting for the easy wins instead of the tough challenges? I’m a firm believer that a parent’s words are far less effective than his or her actions. I can name a dozen things in my life where I lack the confidence that I want my son to have. If it’s important enough to teach your kid, shouldn’t it be important enough for you to tackle as well?