A Sustainable Way to Build Confidence

One excellent way to build confidence in children is to teach them how to cultivate self-compassion. As researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, one of the leading experts on self-compassion, says, cultivating a practice of self-compassion is more effective than building a student’s self-esteem, and it comes without the pitfalls of students developing into narcissists. (In her 2013 TED talk, she cites research that shows that narcissism levels in college undergrads are the highest ever recorded since researchers started recording the data in 1988.) While self-esteem encourages us to think of ourselves as wonderful and sometimes even perfect and better than others, self-compassion asks us to look at how we suffer, make mistakes, and are imperfect, just like everyone else.


And creating a self-compassion practice can have wonderful results: research shows that it helps you cultivate emotional resilience and a more accurate picture of yourself, act with more caring in relationships, and have less reactive anger. I like what Neff says on her web site about self-compassion: “…having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.” So how can you help your child develop self-compassion? 1. Encourage her to be kind to herself when she makes mistakes. Tell her to treat herself like she would someone she cares deeply about: with gentleness, kindness, and warmth. 2. Help him recognize that we all make mistakes, we all have difficult times… and this is what makes us human. 3. Practice mindfulness.


One of the main methods of mindfulness is watching thoughts and releasing attachment to them. This will help your child notice when her inner critics goes wild with negativity. She can then put the brakes on that negative thinking. With practice, she will be able to stop identifying with those negative thoughts and instead have compassion for herself. Dr. Neff’s website has a fantastic group of free guided meditations and exercises you can do with your child. I particularly like the Self-Compassion Break. Try them out! And if you would like me to do self-compassion work with your child during our sessions, please let me know.​