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Unmasking the Confidence-Behavior Connection: Decoding Children's Reactions to Challenge

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

What fuels childrens reactions to challenges?

Imagine a child standing at the edge of a seemingly simple task, their demeanor tense and unsure. What's fueling this hesitation? In this exploration, we navigate the uncharted territory of decoding children's reactions to challenges.

Lack of confidence can result in children displaying problem behaviors. At times, the emotions associated with a lack of confidence in specific activities accumulate over time, rendering children more vulnerable and easily triggered to exhibit intense problem behaviors when faced with obstacles that may not appear as challenging to an external observer.

Reading Russ Harris' book titled 'The Confidence Gap' inspired me to write this post. Throughout my years of practice, it has become very clear to me that there is a strong relationship between confidence, lack of skill, and problem behaviors. At times, I have encountered parents who do not clearly understand this connection. Only when they witness their children attempting new challenges without the usual reactions from the past does the connection become clearer.

Through play, I get to know the children I work with. It allows me to learn about their strengths, specific areas, and activities that appear more challenging to them. This insight helps identify where they would benefit from targeted interventions.

Reasons for lack of confidence

Russ Harris identified 5 main reasons people lack confidence in specific areas. I will not go into detail on each of them but will provide a brief overview. I will exclusively address what I observe with children, although it can be easily generalized to anyone.

One reason for the lack of confidence in children is being a 'perfectionist'—children who are afraid to make mistakes. They may completely avoid a task, make careless errors just to get it over with, delay getting started, take a longer time to complete it, or sometimes they cannot finish it. I have found that arts and crafts are great tools for teaching children to be more flexible and tolerate a 'lack of perfection.' A second reason is harsh self-judgment, which is closely related to perfectionism. Children may engage in telling themselves that they are not going to do well on something or predict the worst outcome. This pessimistic thinking is natural to humanity. However, our culture has taught us that harsh self-judgment is unnatural.

The third reason, closely related to the aforementioned, is a preoccupation with fear. It is common to fear the unknown, be anxious about the future, or dwell on past failures. This preoccupation may lead to avoiding those activities altogether. Another reason is a lack of skill. Skill deficits are strongly related to a lack of confidence, so I always assess children's skills to ensure they have what it takes to be successful and confident. Lastly, a lack of experience in certain areas or activities can lead to faulty confidence. Therefore, the more our children are supported to experience, learn, and practice skills, the better their confidence will be.

Self Confidene needs to be learned

So, self-confidence cannot be instantly acquired or enhanced with positive affirmations. Feeling confident is a process that doesn’t apply uniformly to all aspects of our lives, activities, or skill areas. However, children who feel more confident are less likely to engage in problem behaviors when encountering challenges. They will be more likely to problem-solve by being more flexible.

Self confidence is a process

Curious to learn how our behavioral analysis and counseling services can make a difference for your child? Explore our services page to discover how we can help your family thrive.


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