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Teaching Your Kids: Early Wins Build Confidence

Here's a simple and sure-fire way to build confidence in your young person. Arrange for her to do something she's already good at. That strategy worked every year for students at Xavier University for decades.

And I learned about this from Dr. Art Shriberg. Dr. Shriberg was a member of the faculty or staff of Xavier University in Ohio for over thirty years. In that time, he's worked with literally thousands of students from dozens of countries around the world. Over the years, one of the things he noticed is that the foreign students, far from home and with a first language other than English, often entered the program timider and with less confidence than the local American students.

And in some classes, class participation and group projects made up a meaningful part of their grades and learning. So that put them at a real disadvantage.

Do you know what Dr. Shriberg's solution was? A soccer match. Seriously. He made them all play soccer. Just one game. Each year while he was vice president for student development, he arranged for the students to play soccer. Here's the way he explained his thinking. He said, "The international students were almost always better than the Americans at soccer. They've been playing it their whole lives. So, in that soccer match, they were the stars who shined the most and who everyone wanted on their team.

Those early victories on the soccer field gave them confidence and helped them win friends and respect. And he said, "I noticed they consistently did better in their studies afterwards."

It's really a simple concept. A sure way to build confidence in a new environment is to do at least one thing you're already good at. It builds your own confidence while at the same time building the confidence others have in you.

And a great time to do it is when your child finds themselves in a new environment—just starting in a new school or moving to a new neighborhood. But you don't have to wait for something like that to happen. Anytime you feel like your kid needs a boost of self-confidence, take a play out of Dr. Shriberg's playbook. Make an opportunity for them to do something with other kids that they're already good at. They'll be more confident and self-assured.

In fact, share this story with them and have a conversation about it right now. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. Why do you think the foreign students weren't as confident as the American students?

  2. Do you think it was fair for Dr. Shriberg to pick soccer as the game for all the incoming students to play, instead of baseball or American football?

  3. If someone were new to your school, how could you build their confidence in a similar way?

  4. Next time you're in a new school, grade, job, etc., what kind of thing could you arrange to participate in that you're already good at to build your confidence?

  5. What's an example of a situation where you'd want to completely immerse yourself in something new and not do anything old and familiar?

Okay, in the next several lessons, we'll turn our attention to helping your child develop the courage to overcome their fears and take on even daunting challenges.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith