5 Ways to Give Your Kids Confidence (Without Becoming an Ogre or Doormat)


photo credit: lawndart via photopin cc
photo credit: lawndart via photopin cc


There’s this delicate balance we want to establish in our kids. No, I don’t mean popular in school, without living like a starlet.

Or being the star of the team, without regard to the concept of team.

Or brilliantly smart, without knowing when to take time from the books and be a kid.

Come to think of it, we want those things, too. But that’s not the purpose of this particular blog.

There are three other things we want to instill in our kids, at some point between the moment we cut the umbilical cord to when we take the training wheels off the bike for the first time to helping to pull their jeep out of a lake after college homecoming (what?).

I want my girls to feel …

Young Boy in Confident Pose - Centro Habana - Havana - Cuba

Confident, but not entitled.

Self-assured, but not self-centered.

Happy in their skin, but not oblivious to the world around them.

It’s like trying to balance an egg on one end on Arbor Day (or is that Winter Solstice? I forget.

The generations before were just as perplexed, from the era of Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard to Kids Are Just Little People to Let’s Idolize Our Child With Bumper Stickers Declaring Their Academic Brilliance, Window Stickers With Their Jersey Number, and Cost Of Private Lessons In Anything They Choose To Do Recreationally.

What is right?

There’s more validity in action than theory, as parents know.

These are a handful I try to put into action. The less you speak, and the more you do, the better. I even asked the kids for their input on this. After their initial suggestion that I instill confidence by buying them i-Pod touches were squashed like an Eva Longoria romance, we got down to business.

1. Hype it up, with good stuff

athletes,horse races,horseback riding,horseracing,jockeys,men,persons,riding crops

Grace told the world (or at least her first-grade class) daddy yells at her during soccer. No, not spittle-spewing, vein-popping, profanity-laced discourse, but something really simple: “Go Grace, go!” My sideline sounds are mostly confined to prodding the kid bringing up the rear.

I won’t scream “reverse field!”, “get to space!” or “Pass! Shoot!”; but, kind of like the horse crop on the flank, just a little prodding to get the lead out.

This happens to work, not as effectively, to finish school projects before bedtime (at which time they become parent projects. Definitely thoughts for another blog).

2. Pay attention. Always. Completely.


If your nose is still in your Louis L’Amour novel while she’s telling you about the salamander she found in her school lunch, she’s gonna be bitter. That wacky play he’s dreamed up for the next soccer game that involved sliced lemon and a hedgehog? Take notice.

When they ask to help mush up the hamburger meat for dinner, tell them to wash their hands first, then let them get messy with you.

Honestly, when there’s these sweet familiar brown eyes fixed on you, how can you look anywhere else? I can’t confirm this scientifically, but I feel like if I listen to them, they’ll listen to me.

3. Get behind them – in a real way

brass instruments,entertainment,music,saxophones,valves,leisure,arts,tools

Drive the distance to be at the game. Switch shifts. Praise the effort, not the result. Make sure she has cleats that don’t pinch her toes. A saxophone that the b flat doesn’t sound just like a C. Think about it: If you feel someone cares about what you do, doesn’t it make you want to do it better?

4. Shoot straight

goals,nets,soccer balls,sports,equipment,scores

Not even a kid wants blown smoke. If it wasn’t her best game in goal, no need to call her Swiss cheese and an embarrassment to her heritage, but don’t also tell her she’s the next Hope Solo. “Those were great opportunities you created to shoot today,” you could say, “and I think with a left-footed shot, you might have ended up with a hat trick.”

Now, you can both work on that left foot together.

Beats the heck out of telling her you thought you saw the other team’s goalie driving herself to their U-12 match.

5. Love, Love, Love.

Soccer Ball Cake (2)

I had a goalkeeper who let in the tying goal with 10 seconds left, then missed a penalty shot, and gave up with winning PK. Lots to swallow in the span of 3 minutes, 37 seconds when you’re 10 years old and away from home.

She got hugs as she cried on the field afterward; no words would have done it justice. I’m talking from not only her parents and coach, but parents of other players. We all couldn’t help but think of our own kid in that very spot.

It’s really what makes us want to look into their eyes and root for them and listen to their ideas and watch their mouths move and eyes light up and just get as close to them as you possibly can, because they’re like a really, really awesome little version of you before you knew anything about mortgages and failing transmissions and downsizing.

Plus, love’s the easy part, right?


  1. ashleyinnc says:

    Great tips here. Valuable lessons. Making notes of all of them. 🙂

    1. Thanks – I suspect you have all these in play anyway at your house, right? We dads need periodic reminders.

  2. Leslie says:

    ummm…I have the number sticker thing on the back window of my SUV. My kid is the one who put it there. Is it his number though or just his last name? I should totally wash my back window and find out.

    1. That you have such a dirty window that you’re not sure, kind of gives you free admission into my club, actually. I think it’s when it’s the number and the name that it’s an infraction, but especially if the kid begins referring to himself in third person. Then.it’s.gone.too.far. Eli would never do that.

  3. queenofchaosmom says:

    These are all great things to remember. One thing that I strive for is to NOT have kids that ever feel “entitled”. I want them to work their behinds off for what they want because the rewards are that much sweeter. That whole blurb was right on. Love “self-assured but not self-centered”. I also think it’s true that kids know you aren’t being genuine when you blow smoke up their butts. They know when they’ve played well and when they haven’t. Loved your advice there. Reinforces that not only are you a good dad but a good coach, too.

    1. The thing you have to do from the very start is when the kids start talking about their friends who get whatever they want, you have to find a way to belittle the whole concept. Totally make it seem like it’s the worst thing ever to get what you want, like a bad rash, a bad haircut and a bad flavor of lollipop all rolled into one.

      Before you know it, they’ll be spouting off such wisdom as, “Jenny got a brand-new I-pod – what a moron!” or “Clayton got to invite 25 people to his parachuting birthday party in a limo – lame!” or “Molly gets a toy every time her mom takes her to Target – that’s sick, and I don’t mean like Tony Hawk!”

      It’s not manipulation. It’s guidance in creating their reality.

  4. Loved this! I love that you’re are teaching confidence and not entitlements in your girls. I don’t think that many parents out there nowadays know how to differentiate between the two. Great post!

    1. Thanks Erica! The thought is definitely in my mind to try and just give the kids everything, but I think greater than that is the fear that by never setting boundaries or holding a girl accountable for her actions, and reinforcing what happens when she does right, I’m just creating a monster that will bite us both in the end.

      I’m very proud of how they are, right where they’re sitting this moment.

  5. Important post here! The line between bully and door mat in fine and blurry. Unfortunately, a lot of children fall on either side. But should we be surprised? It’s the same for adults.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Thanks! It’s tough to see the line, sometimes. I think if we don’t set out to do harm, that’s a start. And you’re right … we never reach that point we have it all figured out, do we?

      Can’t wait to delve into your blog. Lots of good stuff there.

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