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  • The Play Therapist

Cultivating Self-Confidence and Grit

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Self confidence and self esteem

Often in my meetings with parents, I am asked how they can boost their children's self confidence and address difficult behaviour stemming from frustration. In this post I will offer several suggestions which I have personally found effective with my students and clients.

Self-confidence is the qualitative measurement of personal accomplishment against previous personal successes. Self-confidence requires self-acceptance and self-belief.

Self -acceptance is a balanced view between personal strengths and challenges. And self- belief is that

'I can achieve my goals and

I can learn how to achieve my goals.'

Self-confidence affects grit. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The persevering individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. What science is discovering is that when we analyse the relative contributions of intelligence, innate talent and grit to achievement, the most important factor is grit (Duckworth et al., 2007).

Grit the key to success

Angela Duckworth explains grit in this video.

Cultivating self-acceptance, confidence and grit

Tip #1: Inculcate a growth mindset

In her 2013 TED talk, Dr. Angela Duckworth said the best idea she has heard about how to increase grit in children is to teach what Dr. Carol Dweck, calls a “growth mindset.”

In this video, Dr. Christine Carter explains Growth and Fixed Mindset:

Three ways parents can cultivate a growth mindset:

Tip #2: Praise

Three ways to praise without saying "Good Job":

More on coaching resiliency, growth mindsets and praise on my resiliency page.

Tip #3: Acknowledge Communicate Target

The ACT model by Garry Landreth, and advocated by Play Therapy International, has proven to be beneficial and effective when practised consistently with the families I have worked with. We can use this method for both our young and adolescent children. It affirms self-worth and self-acceptance, simultaneously, the method does not shame our children when boundaries are needed for safe and respectful behaviour. ACT requires us to guide our children to explore the reasoning behind limits or restrictions and possible other alternatives to safe self-expression.

Step 1: Acknowledge

Acknowledge your child’s feelings by connecting the feeling to the behaviour. When we feel heard and understood, we feel accepted and we realise there is no judgement on our feelings or on our worth. This allows us to express ourselves in ways that help us succeed at home and at school.

  • “I see that you are sad/ angry/ frustrated.”

  • “I hear you. You really want to stay outside and play/ to go to the Arcade.”

  • "I see that you want desperately that toy/ to wear those tight jeans."

  • “I understand how much you really want to stay over at your friend's this weekend.”

Step 2: Communicate

It is natural to have strong emotions and feelings. Emotions and feelings are neither right nor wrong. However, behaviours that communicate strong emotions do have a judgement call. Behaviours that encroach on the emotional and physical safety of self and others are simply inappropriate. In this step we communicate to our children that we all have a right to our feelings, but we don’t have a right to behave destructively or disrespectfully.

Communicate in a way that calms and comforts your child,

then set the boundaries.

  • "I see that you are mad. Let's take deep breaths together."

  • "I see that your feelings are hurt. May I give you a hug?"

  • "I see that you are sad. May I sit quietly beside you?"

Set the boundaries

  • "I am/ Your brother/sister is not for hitting."

  • "Running on the street is unsafe."

  • "It is dinner time and we are committed to having dinner together."

  • "We are committed to visiting your grandparents this weekend."

Step 3: Target Alternatives

There is no right or wrong on our impulses or desires, however, they need to be expressed safely and responsibly.

  • "You can choose to hit the pillow or you can choose to hit the bop."

  • "You can choose to ride your bike tomorrow or jump on the trampoline today."

  • "You can choose to have your friend over Sunday afternoon or you can choose to have her over the next weekend."

It is important for our children to understand that they are responsible for their choices.

  • "In choosing to hit your brother/sister, you’ve chosen to lose TV time today.”

  • "In choosing to take the car without permission, you’ve chosen to lose the car for a week.

In taking responsibility for their choices, our children need to understand that they can make amends by:

  • Picking up the book she threw when she was mad and putting it back where it belongs.

  • Paying for the broken window from part of his daily allowance.

  • Writing a letter of apology and asking how amends can be made.

We experience ownership and learn responsibility when we are stakeholders to resolving the difficulty. So it is important that our children are part of the decision-making process in how they can communicate their strong emotions appropriately.

What ways do you think may be helpful

in solving our problem?

Initially, this practice may be stilted. Role play in front of the mirror and/or with a partner first, so that you will be ready to use ACT when the boundaries need to be put into place. You can learn more about using this skill via the Filial Play Coaching/Mentoring Course.

Tip #4: 5:1 The Golden Ratio

Dr. John Gottman has identified the 'Golden ratio' for keeping relationships healthy and stable. The golden ratio is to engage in five positive interactions for every negative one. This ratio has been clinically proven to raise children's self-acceptance and confidence. A negative interaction, e.g., snapping at our children when we are rushing to meet a deadline, does not delineate our children's worth nor our self-worth. However, after that negative interaction, we need to quickly get back to a better place with ourselves and our children.

Engage in five positive interactions for every negative one.

Positive interactions are quick, simple, easy to do: like looking at your child when she’s talking to you, showing interest in what he says, and asking questions that show you care about what he is saying. Other ideas include demonstrating affection—a hug, an arm around the shoulder, a gentle touch on the brow, a note in her lunchbox that may say,

'Today is gonna be a good day.'

The key is to consciously take loving action that will express how much you value your child.

Stories on self-acceptance and grit

These are stories that I have written for both my clients and students. They have been helpful in bringing about growing self-acceptance and perseverance. You are welcome to download and share them with your children.

Aziz the Fish

Aziz the Fish

Aziz the fish is unable to hear his heart of gold but one day in the quiet of the night...

The Dragon

The Dragon

A boy finds it hard to accept the dragon, he sets himself and the dragon free when he names the dragon.

Do Not Stop

More stories on self-acceptance and grit

Giraffes can't dance. (

Giraffes can't Dance

Gerald the giraffe wants nothing more than to dance. With crooked knees and thin legs, it's harder for him. Gerald is finally able to dance to his own tune when he gets some encouraging words from an unlikely friend.

Amazing Grace (

Amazing Grace

Grace eagerly raises her hand to play the lead role of Peter Pan, but she is told she isn't a boy, and she can't because she is black. Nana sets Grace straight: she can do anything she sets her mind to!

The Hugging Tree (Amazon de)

The Hugging Tree:

A Story About Resilience

A little tree ends up on a cliff and must grow there. He finds comfort in the sea and the moon, support from the crow, and connection and warmth from the people sitting in his shade.

Where the Wild Things Are (

Where the Wild Things Are

Max becomes the King of all Wild Things.


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