child on a mountain displaying confidence

Confidence can be defined as the belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.1 A confident child displays a belief in his own abilities. This confidence is developed over time as he learns to trust himself. A child’s confidence is accelerated by adults in his life who show their trust and belief in him. Both internal messages and external feedback from others play an important part in developing confidence.2

A child’s self-concept is his personal assessment of his worthiness, which is expressed in his attitude toward himself. Self-esteem is influenced by how the child feels others view him. Together self-concept and self-esteem represent the total perception of the child’s worthiness and competence. If a child’s performance does not match his personal aspirations, he is likely to feel inferior and inadequate. Conditions that threaten to expose his inadequacies can cause anxiety. If a child believes in himself and his abilities, he can have a stable, positive self-concept and be confident.3

There are many components of developing confidence. A sense of belonging to a group that values and accepts him builds a child’s positive self-concept. When a child plays with friends on the playground, whether in a softball game or engaging in pretend play, he feels accepted. When a child realizes that others value his thoughts, ideas, and contributions, he develops a sense of worthiness.4

The first time a child successfully navigates the overhead rings on the playground equipment, his confidence is elevated and he is ready to conquer the next challenge. Perceived competence is a personal self-evaluation of competence compared to others and previous personal experiences, which increases when the child demonstrates improvement and achieves goals in specific experiences. This promotes self-confidence.5

It is universally accepted that a child’s confidence is learned. Initially, parents and teachers provide feedback to the child’s behavior. This is interpreted by the child as giving meaning to their activities. Then the child acts in ways consistent with his self-concept. Self-esteem develops only in the presence of others as the child perceives how he fits in the world.6 Adults need to show unconditional love for the child to help him feel safe, and then provide him opportunities for success to instill confidence in him. Meaningful praise that is genuine boosts a child’s self-esteem and aids in developing confidence as well.7

Preschoolers begin to understand that they are individuals as well as part of the social world. They begin to make judgments about their own worth and competencies, usually overestimating their abilities and underestimating how hard new tasks are. They feel approval more by how well they can do things and translate their accomplishments into how they feel about themselves. School-age children become more aware of their own abilities and can evaluate and compare themselves to their playmates. Their evaluation of performance and the feedback they receive from others influence their self-esteem and confidence. Children who have confidence believe their successes are due to their abilities, and they become success oriented. Children, who see themselves as failures, often give up on trying to succeed and feel their failures cannot be changed by hard work.8

  • 1. “Confidence.” < > 20 Oct. 2010.
  • 2. Healy, Maureen. “Confidence in Children.” Psychology Today. < > 20 Oct. 2010.
  • 3. Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. Developmental Physical Education for All Children. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003. p. 122.
  • 4. Ibid. pp. 123-125.
  • 5. Ibid. pp. 125.
  • 6. Ibid., p. 128.
  • 7. “Confidence—Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence.” U. S. Department of Education. < > 20 Oct. 2010.
  • 8. Frost, Joe L., Sue Wortham, and Stuart Reifel. Play and Child Development. Upper Saddle Valley, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001. pp. 179-180, 232-233.