“I can’t do this! It’s too hard.” That’s probably something you’ve heard your child say at least once, if not several times. It may have happened while learning to play a sport, while working on homework, or even when learning a new game. Sometimes children doubt their ability to learn, and they lack confidence when they feel challenged. In these moments, they lack self-efficacy, which is an individual’s perceptions about their capabilities to perform at an expected level, achieve goals, and complete moderately challenging tasks. For younger children, we explain that self-efficacy means believing you can do hard things.
Watch this 4-minute video to learn more about what it means to have strong self-efficacy and why it is important to support children in developing it.
Strategy 1: Say, “I Haven’t Learned This Yet”
One strategy you can use to encourage your child to believe they can do hard things is to help them understand that learning new things takes effort. When there is something they can’t do or are struggling to understand, it is because they haven’t learned it yet. Explain to your child that when they are working to learn something, making mistakes, and feeling discouraged, they should say, “I haven’t learned this yet.” When children learn to use the say, “I haven’t learned this yet” strategy, they are building their self-efficacy by beginning to make connections between putting forth effort and making progress in their learning. Watch the video Sesame Street: Janelle Monae—Power of Yet and talk to your child about what the characters in the video were struggling with and what they did to eventually learn the task.
You can also discuss the things you are currently learning and emphasize that you will keep trying to learn them but that you haven’t learned them yet. Ask your child to share a few things they are still learning and remind them to use phrase “I haven’t learned this yet” to help them remember to keep trying. When you hear your child say statements like “I can’t” or “I’m bad at that,” help them to immediately rephrase their negative statements into positive ones by saying things like “This is difficult for me because I haven’t learned it yet.”
Strategy 2: Calm Myself
One reason children may lack self-efficacy is because they struggle with managing their emotional reactions. When they experience a challenge, children can become overwhelmed or frustrated and convey those emotions by crying, throwing objects, or pulling away from others in a group. When children learn they can recognize and work through their emotions, their confidence grows in their ability to face and overcome challenges.
Help your child learn to manage their emotional reactions by encouraging them to use the calm myself strategy when they start to feel intense emotions. Rainbow Breathing can be used as part of the calm myself strategy to help address the emotions. Taking deep breaths will help your child calm their emotions and give them better focus when they are experiencing a challenge. Watch the video Rainbow Breath with your child and remind them to practice using Rainbow Breaths anytime they start to feel overwhelming emotions.
Strategy 3: Learn From My Mistakes
Children often experience low self-efficacy when they make a mistake. This can be a mistake in their behavior or their learning. It can be difficult for children to accept when they make a mistake. They may feel embarrassed or blame others when they make a mistake. When children don’t accept their mistakes and try to hide them, they are experiencing low self-efficacy.
You can support your child in building their self-efficacy by using the learn from my mistakes strategy. Talk to your child about their mistakes and explain that mistakes are normal. When they make a mistake, they should acknowledge it and take time to think about what they have learned by making the mistake. When they can identify how they might change their actions to improve, they are building their self-efficacy.
With your child, watch the video Mistakes Are How I Learn by Kiara Wilson. In the book, Tamara learns to keep working hard when she makes mistakes. When you help your child understand how to use the learn from my mistakes strategy, it decreases their fear of taking on challenges and ultimately builds their belief in themselves. When we make mistakes, we can stop and ask ourselves what we learned from that mistake and then try again.
Now that you have learned about self-efficacy and how it can increase your child’s ability to persist through challenges, consider your next steps for supporting your child in practicing the self-efficacy strategies you have learned.