Until you become a parent, you don’t realise quite how dangerously elusive confidence is. Worse still, you don’t realise how impossible it seems to inspire confidence in others, in particular, your kids.
As a parent, confidence is the magic dust that helps us say yes to things we never thought we could do for another person. Day-after-day it fuels our belief that we’re doing a great job. It’s what powers us on when we fail.
But when confidence is gone, escaping our grasp like the transient vapour it so often feels like it is, it leaves us terrified, left floundering with worry that we’re screwing up our kids and ill-preparing them for the world they will face as adults.
In short, we face the daily reality of how much confidence really matters. We worry that its elusiveness will leave us paralysed as parents. But worse than that, we worry that our kids will grew up lacking confidence. We know they need it in abundance, yet we find ourselves floundering all the more in trying to inspire confidence in our kids.
As a result, what we end up teaching our kids can so often be a caricature of what we see in the world around us.
Think about it, how would you spot someone confident in a crowded room? You might point to their walk, or you might look at the way they command attention when they speak. It might be how relaxed someone is or the way they lead others.
We can spot these more signs of confidence because by their nature they are outward and active. But if that’s all we see, it’s easy to let that dominate our view of what it is to be confident and in turn, point our children singularly towards that same expression of confidence.
We tell ourselves, and our kids, that this is what confidence looks like. The child who speaks up, speaks out, takes the lead, and gets everyone moving towards a certain goal is the one we aspire our own kids to be like. We think a lot of those kids and their outward signs of confidence. But that’s not all there is to confidence.
On the other side of the confidence coin is a passive face. A child that is willing to wait, to bide their time and be patient. It takes confidence to wait your turn, to trust that a better moment will come for you or to be willing to put up with short term discomfort or difficulty in order to succeed later on. This kind of confidence doesn’t worry about what other’s are doing, it knows its own plan and it is willing to stick to its principles.
Neither type of confidence is wrong or right, but there is a time and place for both. Confidence is not complete without the ability to wait or the ability to go. There is a time to be quiet and wait, not worrying that your chance is gone or giving up in the face of resistance. And then there is a time to take opportunities, to stand up for what’s right or challenge the norm of what others are doing, to recognise things are not going the way you hoped and knowing you have agency to change the course of events.
Trying to teach your kids what confidence looks like shouldn’t rest on a caricature. Both active and passive confidence are guiding lights our kids need in equal measure to keep them from the crashing on the rocks of tough times where things aren’t going their way.
Our kids' confidence doesn’t come from just talking them up. it comes from being challenged, and overcoming. But that means handling all sorts of challenges in all sorts of situations.
So yes, teach them the challenge of standing up for something and carving a path for themselves when the way ahead seems blocked. But also teach them to take on the challenge of being quiet and diligent even when they are overlooked, teach them to carry on with patience in the face of adversity and wait for a better day to come.
Teach them that sometimes confidence looks like going when the light is green, teach them that sometimes confidence looks like waiting when the light is red.