Teaching Confidence As A Skill

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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The skill of confidence can be developed through Positive Practice in handling difficult situations – and makes a huge difference in self-advocacy and personal safety. The following article is from The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.

Sometimes people ask me, “Why do you keep saying that Kidpower teaches confidence? I think of confidence as meaning that you believe in yourself, and that’s a feeling or a belief, not a skill that is taught!”

The reality is that confidence can be many things – a feeling, an attitude, a belief, a decision, and a set of skills that can be learned.

The feeling of confidence comes from believing that we are powerful, valuable, and competent. Some lucky people seem to feel confident just naturally most of the time. However, in working with thousands of students from all walks of life, we have found that people of all ages and abilities can learn to develop the skill of Showing Confidence, no matter how they feel inside.

We tell our students that, “People will listen to you better and bother you less if you Act Aware, Calm, and Respectfully Confident.”

“Awareness” means paying attention and noticing everything around you. “Calm” means staying in control of your mind, your body, and your words. “Respectful Confidence” means you act like you believe in yourself and respect others.We then coach our students to practice sitting, talking, and walking while they show Awareness, Calm, and Respectful Confident by:

  • Making their bodies tall and open with their shoulders down, their backs straight, and their heads up
  • Using a “soft eye” as they look around rather than glaring at someone or acting timid
  • Keeping a peaceful look on their faces and calm strong body language
  • Using a “regular voice” – firm rather than whiny, tentative, or irritated -loud enough to be heard easily
  • Speaking up about what they do and don’t want using clear polite words
  • Staying centered while the teacher pretends to be someone acting rude or scary

People can also learn the skills necessary to protect themselves from most experiences that can damage their feelings of confidence, to deal with problems in a way that develops their feelings of confidence, and to create experiences that will build their feelings of confidence.

One of my favorite insights from Stephen R. Covey’s wise book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is that love is not just a feeling; loving someone is actually a decision. You can show love to another person if you have decided to love that person, even when you don’t feel love towards that person at that moment. By doing so, you can often create the conditions that will lead more feelings of love between you and this person. (Making Safe Decisions About Love and Showing Love in Healthy Ways are also skills that we can learn, but that’s a different article.)

The same thing is true with Confidence. You can learn how to Show Respectful Confidence and decide to use this skill no matter how you feel inside. By doing so, you are more likely to have experiences that will lead to your feeling more confidence. Acting with a lack of Confidence is likely to cause you to doubt yourself even more and to cause others to treat you with less interest and respect, which often leads to your having experiences that can increase your feelings of doubting yourself, creating a downward spiral leading to loss of feeling confident.

Often, developing the skill of Confidence is connected to the skill of Persistence, which means not giving up, even in the face of obstacles, and to the skills of Getting Help and Setting Boundaries, even when you feel embarrassed or shy. Overcoming feelings of insecurity and self-doubt is hard work.

We have found that our students develop confidence when they are coached to be successful in persisting if someone doesn’t respond or becomes negative. For example, we set up role plays where an instructor pretends to be someone who is busy, intrusive, or impatient when a student asks for help or sets boundaries. We  teach our students that, if one person doesn’t help or listen, it’s their job to keep asking different people until they get the help they need.

Additional Resources:
Teaching Children the Skill of Persistence
Assertive Advocacy: Communication Skills So Others Will Listen to You Better and Bother You Less

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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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