Believing in oneself is the first step to success, happiness, and a feeling of control in life. It is also a learned behaviour that becomes a habit when practiced over time. Likewise, self-doubt and feelings of inferiority can also become a habit if practiced frequently.
If you find your teen has a low opinion of herself, telling her to be more positive isn’t going to change much. She has settled into a habitual way of thinking about herself and will need a little more work before she can change how she think of herself. You can help her change a step at a time. To get her to change, you’ll have to address her thoughts, emotions, and behaviour one at a time while understanding that all 3 work together in synchrony.
Here are steps to help you boost your teen’s belief in herself. Follow these steps in the order listed. Remember, this is a journey. These types of changes usually don’t happen instantly. Give yourself a month to 2 months before you start seeing behavioural changes.
1. Investigate what behaviour you are modeling: Change your behaviour before you attempt to help your child, lest you be called a hypocrite. Would you take a coach seriously if she asked you to stop smoking, start eating healthier, and exercise more when you know she did the exact opposite? Would this coach motivate you to change your life? Would you take her seriously? It works the same way in the parent-child relationship. So, stand back for a week to observe your life and get an idea of the behaviour and language you model to your kids. Ask yourself if you model confident and assertive behaviour. Do you often speak about how you are unsure of your skills and what you have to offer to the world?
2. Find out her thoughts: If you are worried about her low self-esteem, her lack of belief in herself, and suspect something is amiss, speak to her! Chose neutral words and a nonjudgmental attitude when speaking to her. Bring up examples you have witnessed to get to the root cause of why she doubts herself and her abilities. To find out where this feeling originated, ask her which events led her to start questioning her capability. Get her to list as many events as she can remember and line them up in chronological order. This way you can get an idea of how this thought originated and how it solidified her belief.
3. Share positivity: Show your teen you believe in her. Remind her of the many successes she has had and the hard work she put in to accomplish them. Ask her if she were to put in the same amount of effort in another activity, if that would lead to success? Ask her to list the lessons learned and how her newfound knowledge would influence her future decisions and behaviour. Ask her to provide a different interpretation of the same events when she concluded she wasn’t good enough (what are other reasons the event did not turn out?). Share some of your own stories where you wished you believed in yourself or where in hindsight you learned you are a lot smarter and courageous then you ever thought.
4. Challenge her: Challenge her to try new things and retry some old things. The reason this step comes last is because you need to do some cognitive work before her behaviour will change. By now you have started to demonstrate more uplifting behaviour (so you are not a hypocrite), you have addressed the root cause of why she stopped believing in herself, you have illustrated many of her successes, and let her know you believe in her even if things don’t work out the first time around. These changes add to her confidence and believing in herself becomes a tad easier.
Best Wishes to Your family!
Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto