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Self-Confidence Is Not Self-Esteem

By Cultures Of Dignity | April 6, 2021

The following excerpt on self-confidence and self-esteem is from Michele Borba Ed.D.’s new book: Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.

Self-Confidence Is Not Self-Esteem

How to Help Kids Develop Their Core Assets and a Healthy Sense of Self So They Thrive

By Michele Borba, Ed.D.


Most parents view self-esteem as the flight path to happiness and success, so we constantly tell kids: “Believe in yourself,” “You’re special,” and “You can be anything you want.” We give trophies for showing up and gold stars for breathing (or just about). We smooth over every bump, solve any problem, and never, ever let them fail. But our well- intended efforts are reaping dismal returns. Today’s kids are more depressed than any previous generation, while their narcissism (“I’m better than you”) has increased more than their self-esteem.

Here’s what the research really shows: there is little evidence that boosting self-esteem increases academic success or even authentic happiness. Yup. All those participation trophies were for nothing. Several large reviews of school-based programs conclude that trying to boost self-esteem “had no discernible effect on students’ grades or achievement.” Studies do show, however, that children who attribute their grades to their own efforts and strengths are more successful than kids who think they have no control over academic outcomes. Once kids recognize what they do well, they’re motivated to use those strengths again and again. Each success boosts self-conviction a bit more, but the kid is always the doer and director of his own triumphs or failures.

Real self-confidence is an outcome of doing well, facing obstacles, creating solutions, and snapping back on your own. Fixing their problems, doing their tasks, or making things easier for them only makes kids think: “They don’t believe I can.” Kids who have self-assuredness know they can fail but also rebound, and that’s why we must unleash ourselves from hovering, snowplowing, and rescuing. Thrivers are always self-directed and they have a strong understanding of who they are.

Book cover - Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others ShineBuilding our children’s self-confidence starts looking inward at ourselves, and then turning our lens to our children. It helps us honor our children for who they are, not who we want them to be. Showing our respect for who they are is the greatest way to help kids respect themselves. It also unleashes competence, peak performance, and thriving abilities and reduces emptiness and burnout, but it starts by discovering who our magnificent kids are and then using those findings to help them develop accurate views of their assets and limitations.

Identifying our children’s natural talents, strengths and gifts (or what I call “Core Assets”) can be one of our most important parenting tasks. These Core Assets can be personality features such as friendliness, being a good listener, or being a smart collaborator. They can be character traits like empathy, grit, and kindness. Or they can be talents and gifts like music, acting, and original thinking. Most important: Core Assets are those that you actually recognize in your child—not strengths you hope he possesses or those you see in yourself. They are her strongest positive qualities, character traits, and signature talents that can help her thrive. They are what make her who she is. Here are three ways to instill a sense of healthy confidence and stretch your child’s thriving potential.

1. Identify your child’s Core Assets.

Over the next few days, tune into your child and identify her strengths, interests and natural gifts. TALENT describes six common characteristics of Core Assets when exhibited in an individual. Core Assets feature a child’s:

  • T = Tenacity. The child shows determination and perseverance to succeed at the task involving his asset.
  • A = Attention. The child is easily absorbed in the task and focuses longer than when compared to other strength areas or Core Assets.
  • L = Learning. The child learns quicker and easier when using the Core Asset.
  • E = Eagerness. The child is motivated and energized to be an active participant in the task, and doesn’t need adult prod- ding or rewards.
  • N = Need. The child is possessive about the Core Asset: “It’s my thing.” The asset is a confidence booster, relaxer, or fulfiller of a positive need.
  • T = Tone. The child sounds excited, proud, or joyous when talking about the asset.

2. Acknowledge your child’s Core Assets.

Identify a few core strengths that you want your child to recognize about himself right now. Make sure they are legitimate and already present, and then acknowledge them frequently. Be specific so your child knows exactly what he did to deserve recognition. “You’ re patient: you always wait until it’s your turn and never get flustered.” “You’re tenacious: you hang in there and never give up!” “I noticed how you asked that older woman if she needed help.” Kids need to recognize their gifts before they want to put in any effort to improve.

3. Carve time.

Many kids say there just isn’t enough time to spend on an interest they love if it isn’t considered “necessary” for school or sports success. We all want to help our children prioritize the skills we think will help them succeed in the world . . . but by redirecting their time we can inadvertently be quelling their true interests and passions. In fact, studies show that the average American kid gives up their talent because they don’t have enough time to practice their gift. Check your kid’s schedule: Is there one activity that can be cut that could free up thirty to sixty minutes a week for the strength? Can time playing video games, texting, or TV be reduced? Let’s help kids find time to cultivate their natural gifts while ensuring it’s the gift they love!

Self-confidence grows when kids know who they are and can apply their special gifts. Our role is to respect our kids for who they are, and then unleash their assets so they can develop to their fullest potential. If we are to succeed, we must let our kids lead us—and that is one more way we can raise a generation of strong, confident, internally-propelled kids who thrive!

About the Author

Michele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educational psychologist and an expert in parenting, bullying, and character development. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has spoken in nineteen countries on five continents, is a regular TODAY contributor and has been featured as an expert on DatelineThe ViewDr. PhilNBC Nightly News Dr. Oz, and The Early Show, among many others. Her latest book is titled, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. For more information: .  

Michele Borba's Website
Self-Confidence Is Not Self-Esteem