: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.
: a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true.1
About a belief in self: Confident kids believe in their ability to learn and achieve whatever goal they desire. This belief in self has to do with self-concept but is more directly aligned with self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, or a sense that I can do or learn something, serves as a primary motivator and certainly a predictor of academic success. Children who believe they can will decide to take on greater and more difficult challenges than their self-doubting peers and work harder to meet those challenges.
There is evidence that self-efficacious students participate more readily, work harder, persist longer, and have fewer adverse emotional reactions when they encounter difficulties than do those who doubt their capabilities.2
Researchers have found that feelings of self-efficacy can be task-specific. In other words, I believe I can learn to swim but I doubt I can solve this math equation. These attitudes are influenced by parents, teachers, peers and others in a child’s life. A child’s belief in himself to successfully do something can also be influenced by an innate temperament toward risk-taking or risk aversion. Knowing and understanding your child and their motivational influences can go a long way toward your ability to support her and provide a positive influence.
Strategies to promote a belief in self:
Brain educator, Stefanie Frank, author of the blog, “Brain Education for Youth” suggests trying visualization techniques. I asked from her perspective how I might help my six year old child learn to ride a bike when he is convinced he won’t be able to ride it without training wheels and is completely unmotivated to try. She writes,
As he is younger, it will be more of a challenge for him to engage in this the same we would as adults (since his prefrontal cortex is still maturing), but luckily the power of imagination and motivation are on his side! He could do some drawings of himself riding his bike with his friends, or use a Lego version of himself on a bike going to cool places so he can visualize it better, and you can definitely help him with imagining who he would tell first and what he would say when he accomplishes it – maybe even write a letter announcing it! You can also ask him where he would dream of going on his bike with all that freedom!
These are excellent suggestions. Additionally, here are a few other strategies to help with motivation and belief in self for a reluctant learner.
Tell the story of an already mastered skill.
“I built that Lego Millennium Falcon in four days and I didn’t even think it was hard,” exclaimed E. This gave me an opening to talk about the process of learning he went through to master the building of a highly complex space ship. We have video proof of him as a three year old struggling with a pair of large Duplo blocks that serve as his first exposure to Legos. He played with those for a long time. Then he began working with the medium-sized blocks. And finally, he worked with the tiny bricks and built a sense of mastery over a period of three years. The story helps him see how much practice and effort went into that process. “I didn’t even know! I was just having fun.” he said after I told him the story of his learning process. So true. And it could be the same for learning to ride a bike or learning to read or do math equations. Learning can be fun when you really put your full self into the experience. You can forget about the effort and hard work.
Focus on effort.
We tend to be a product-oriented society. But focusing on the end product can be demoralizing and demotivating for a child. For example, your young budding artist may have grand, gorgeous visions in her head of her piece of artwork. When she actually puts crayon to paper, the outcome may be less fantastic than she imagined. Focusing on children’s efforts and hard work shows that it’s their persistence that can help them learn and master anything. It places the value on the process of achieving a goal and encourages children to keep trying. Eventually, they will be able to implement their vision if they continue to work at it.
Believe in children’s ability to learn anything.
Regardless of your words, children know whether you have confidence in their abilities or not. They are so keenly attuned to our body language, facial expressions and subtleties that they just know. So what will it take to convince yourself that they can learn anything with hard work and time? Think about a specific example in which your child has struggled to learn something. Are you worried she might not learn it? Did you struggle with a task or subject as a child that you needed to learn but feared you couldn’t? How did you overcome that fear? How did you learn what you needed to? Reflecting on your own experiences helps you understand your own underlying beliefs about what can be learned. Realize that your beliefs quickly translate to your child. Make sure that you are reframing your own thinking so that you can truly be supportive of the hard work she has ahead of her to achieve mastery.
For further reading on this topic, check out,
1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belief. Retrieved on 9-16-14.
2. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. NY: Freeman.
2. Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An Essential Motive to Learn. Contemporary Education Psychology, 25, 82-91.