Do you know a young person who has self-doubts when it comes to friends, schoolwork or self-image? If you are a parent, do you have a child or adolescent who lacks self-belief?
Several years ago, I worked as a school psychologist. I met with many students referred to me for counselling due to low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of motivation, and school refusal.
I discovered that most had a low degree of self-belief – not in all areas of their lives, but in the area where they were experiencing difficulty.
When my two kids were growing up, I noticed that from time-to-time their lack of self-belief was holding them back. For example, my son who loved playing soccer was not chosen for the starting team because of his approach during practice and who seemed to the coach to lack confidence. We worked on this together for a few weeks, he boosted his self-belief, and he secured a place on the starting team.
As a result of my professional experiences as a psychologist and parent, I learnt that a lot can be done to help young people change their negative attitudes and thinking to a more positive mindset. I captured this in the phrase, You Can Do It!
Its’ been over 20 years since I created with Patricia my business partner and wife, the now well-known social-emotional learning program called You Can Do It! Education. We are Australia’s first and leading SEL program for students that in part focuses on combating the problems of low self-belief in students and to instil confidence. Today, 1000s of K-12 schools here and overseas employ our curricula (e.g., Program Achieve, The Successful Mind) in classrooms to help strengthen student self-belief and social-emotional skill.
How does You Can Do It! as an attitude influence the way young people think, feel, and behave? When faced with stressful events or people, young people with strong self-belief talk to themselves using a strong and convincing voice, “You can do It!” “You can cope with being teased or even bullied!” “You can get this difficult work finished!” “You can give a great talk, speech, or presentation!”. The result is strong feelings of confidence and determined behaviour.
What teachers can do to strengthen students’ belief in themselves
- Continuously communicate the message that students have the ability to learn, grow academically and that they have capable brains. (growth mindset)
- Beware of and change any unconscious negative expectations you may hold that may include a deficit mindset about one or more students. Instead, focus on strengths communicating that when learning takes time, you are never going to give up on them and that they can do it. (I can do it!)
- Model your own self-belief to your students by sharing your own obstacles and efforts to work towards goals. Continually express your belief in your own success. Tell stories how your own self belief helped you overcome a setback or failure.
- Reinforce the idea that simply thinking “I can do it!” or “I have what it takes” is not enough to be successful. Explain that student success is due to their continuous effort when they are finding school work hard. (giving effort)
- Create an emotionally safe learning environment by teaching that it’s OK and often helpful to make mistakes when learning something new and that while it is great to achieve, they do not always have to be successful in everything they do. (risk taking)
- Help students cope with negative comments of peers when they have made mistakes or said something silly. Teach them that it is not the end of the world if someone thinks they are silly or stupid and that they do not need constant approval of others to survive. (being independent)
- Teach self-acceptance in multiple ways so that students refrain from self-criticism and taking it personally when they do not immediately understand learning material, make mistakes or others are critical of their schoolwork. (accepting myself)
- Teach students how to appreciate the importance of setting goals for what they are learning and include a pathway for students to take to achieve the goal. (goal setting)
- Give students the tools for trying hard including teaching high frustration tolerance, time management and ways to overcome procrastination. (working tough, organisation)
- Provide students with feedback for times when they have stayed calm and managed their emotions in stressful situations (learning and interpersonal). (I can do it!)
- Help them develop positive future expectations and the confidence that with effort they can do difficult and time-consuming work in order to achieve their personal best and at a high standard. (confidence)
- When students do not perform at a level consistent with expectations, continue to insist that they persist in trying to do their best work. (persistence)
- Teach students the tools (e.g., finding someone to talk to, positive self-talk, anti-catastrophising, relaxation-mindfulness) for managing learning anxiety. (resilience)
- Teach students to recognise and challenge I Can’t Do It! thoughts that are not accurate or sensible and replacing the negative thought with positive thoughts I Can Do It! that are based on evidence and make sense.
- Have students create learning diaries or construct success trees where they record and celebrate small and big successes especially when: 1. they have learnt difficult academic content and 2. they were able to stay calm and calm down when faced with challenging learning tasks and difficult people.
After many years teaching You Can Do It!, it continues to help both Patricia and I get through any bad patches, it gives us the courage to be ourselves and to keep trying to do our best. You Can Do It! has helped our children and the many, many, many young people who have participated in YCDI! programs at their schools. You Can Do It! is not a guarantee that you will be successful in anything you attempt. Rather it is an energising force that helps you to have a go, to not be afraid when the going gets tough, and to believe in yourself. What can be more powerful than that?