Help Kids Build Confidence and Manage Self-Doubt

By Stephanie Filio

Help Kids Build Confidence and Manage Self-DoubtI have never been coordinated beyond a slow walk particularly athletic, so naturally, I always hated PE class. In middle school, my hatred was at its peak. Every day, I entered the gym with my signature modus operandi: roll eyes, cross arms, say teacher is terrible, vocalize how totally lame activity is. In short, I apologize to every PE teacher who ever had me on their roster.

At the end of the day, my terrible behavior in PE came down to one thing: I would do anything necessary to avoid the humiliation of looking ridiculous in front of my friends. Since I had no confidence in this area, I was certain public humiliation and social devastation would result. At the root of my work avoidance, at the root of my attitude, and at the root of my disruption, was self-doubt.

Sound Familiar?

Student A starts to walk to friends’ desks every time you introduce a new concept.

Student B rolls her eyes and puts her head down when tasked with reading aloud.

Student C asks to go to the bathroom when group work begins.

Student D gives you his planner for a hall pass as soon as you hand out a new math worksheet.

Each of these four scenarios gives two hints that there might be more emotion behind the student’s actions. First, all four students are avoiding an assignment. Second, there is a pattern of behavior with the activity yielding the same reaction each time. These four students are not just a stitch in their teachers’ sides; they are experiencing self-doubt and are in need of help and support.

Building Confidence

It’s no secret that we counselors are firm believers that no other influence is quite as positive on a student as intentional and honest rapport building is. By building rapport with students, you ensure that they are more likely to speak freely about the ways they doubt themselves and reveal opportunities to build confidence. Once you’ve got an “in” with a kid, you’re golden!

When students have an adult they trust, they have an ally in the craziness of the middle school world. In this protective relationship, you can provide supports that are more likely to be accepted. Positive praise holds weight when it comes from someone who has been honest, and students will believe and accept it. The goal here is to ensure that students begin to adopt these positive thoughts as their own and can move forward with less self-doubt.

Building Together

Let’s be honest. With the inflated class sizes and caseloads these days, rapport building sometimes feels daunting. Though we build varied relationships based on a tiered system of support, whole-class activities provide a great opportunity to build developmental skills in students. In middle school, this can be especially influential, giving students a chance to support their peers and practice empathy. It’s a win-win!

Here are some mini-lesson ideas to get you started:

  • Have students write their best attributes on slips of paper. Staple them together in a chain and hang them to celebrate the many talents in your room or school!
  • Form two lines facing each other and go down the line, having each student complete the statement “I am . . .” with a personal talent or favorite attribute. Before moving on to the next student, tell the lines to step forward if they share that attribute.
  • Get students to interview each other and present their partner to the class. Tell everyone how awesome they are! This helps students communicate, promote themselves, and support each other.
  • Explore negative self-talk by having students anonymously write down things they find tough on slips of paper. Collect the papers, read them to the class, and have your students suggest replacement positive self-talk statements.
  • Have a Purpose Party! Allow students to explore what they think their purpose is in their current lives. What do they mean to their family? Their friends? What are their future careers? Get kids to celebrate themselves with a juice-box toast to each other!

Meet the Avoider

Getting back to those student patterns we know and love so well . . . reminding staff about their own middle school years might help bring them to a place of understanding. Exploring some possible supports might also help staff have some tools ready for the next time they encounter a student struggling to manage self-doubt.

Student A starts to walk to friends’ desks every time you introduce a new concept. Have the student work with a paired peer mentor? Offer the student some one-on-one tutoring?

Student B rolls her eyes and puts her head down when tasked with reading aloud. Gut check some of the literacy strategies in the classroom? Have a “reading lunch”?

Student C asks to go to the bathroom when group work begins. Keep a close eye on peer communication? Let the student join up with a trusted friend?

Student D gives you his planner for a hall pass as soon as you hand out a new math worksheet. Be by the student’s side to easily help with content? Flip the classroom and offer all students some options for concept prep?

By building strong, trusting relationships with students and strengthening their confidence with classroom lessons and supportive environments, you can help them learn to manage their self-doubt. Though it is natural to feel insecure, it is just as natural to develop strategies to stay in control of it!

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

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