With a high potential learner, building confidence sometimes means taking one uneasy step at a time. Fortunately, with the right support it won’t be ‘a bridge too far’.
We all know a child who is desperately keen to gather a small audience and recite a poem, perform a dance or crack the Rubik’s Cube in record time – is this ‘confidence’? Probably there is an element of confidence to it. However, for some, ‘clowning around’ or otherwise craving attention originate in unhappy insecurity rather than a relaxed passion. The goal, therefore, should be to help nurture a calm, healthy confidence born out of positive self-esteem.
Confidence in More Depth
A great definition of confidence written for children and teens is: “Confidence means feeling sure of yourself and your abilities — not in an arrogant way, but in a realistic, secure way. Confidence isn’t about feeling superior to others. It’s a quiet inner knowledge that you’re capable.” (https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/confidence.html)
Healthy confidence could be seen as constructive energy that fuels a youngster to unapologetically (yet considerately) take charge of their own destiny. With this kind of positive ambition, motivation blooms and young leaders emerge who are already inspiring feelings of respect, trust and confidence in their peers. Confidence can ‘make things happen’.
Academically, confidence is also important. A child who holds back from participating in school, clubs or life may not blossom. For future success, even very able children need to combine their high achievement levels and cognitive strengths with skills such as resilience, motivation and a healthy self-belief.
Confidence and Self-Esteem
The ‘quiet inner knowledge’ of confidence is underpinned by positive self-esteem; having a good opinion of oneself based on a realistic self-assessment. See the Potential Plus UK Blog I Believe in Me – Positive Self-Esteem for High Potential Learners
This combination reduces anxiety and fosters a strong sense of self with truly grounded principles and values. Thus, when peer pressure, bullies, hard work or life events cause difficulty, a young person can more comfortably stand their ground, trust their instincts and have faith in their future. Read more in: Self-Esteem and Motivation – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from Psychology HQ
“I Don’t Feel Confident Because…”
Children and teens with high learning potential often have a confidence crisis in some of the following 5 areas:
1: “I can’t make friends”
Befriending young people of their own age can be tough for high potential learners as they will almost certainly have interests, values and vocabularies that are out-of-sync with other children. Additionally, their unusual ways of thinking will challenge the norms of many peer groups, clubs and social media communities.
Help them by finding additional peers with whom they can socialise at hobby groups or play safely with online in their free time.
This ‘asynchronicity’ may also improve over time as peers begin to ‘catch up’. However, any long periods without friends could be damaging, so try to spot and support potential mental health issues, contacting your GP as appropriate.
Given that authenticity and honesty tend to be important values to those with high learning potential, help build their confidence by validating their wish to be true to themselves. Explain, however, that sometimes it is necessary for all of us to ‘be polite’ or ‘keep our opinion to ourselves’; honesty and enthusiasm sometimes need to be filtered to consider others’ feelings – or even to abide by the law!
2: “I am so un-funny”
Your highly witty child can make the best joke in the world, but as soon as it involves wordplay or a twist on specialist knowledge, they leave their peers behind and their brilliant joke falls flat. Any trainee comic would feel despondent, confused and embarrassed.
Once again, asynchronous development is the cause of significant challenge. Clever word-plays, Middle Ages references or chemical equation puns can go totally over the heads of peers – or even busy teachers not expecting multi-layered humour.
Try to reassure them that there will come a day when others do have the time and knowledge to understand their advanced humour. In the meantime, take the time to appreciate it yourself to bond and build their confidence.
Local and online comedy clubs exist for young people; perhaps they could join one or watch other comedians deliver age-appropriate material? (Contact your local theatres, or see https://www.comedyclub4kids.co.uk/ for workshops around the country.)
3: “I am boring”
In-depth knowledge of a particular interest may be difficult to share. It can be tricky for a high potential learner who wants to enthuse about the Periodic Table or treat all around to long presentations about different breeds of dog. They have all of the facts, however social skills and empathy are only just emerging that will teach them that we are all different in our preferences.
Continue to nurture healthy confidence so that the young person in your care can calmly find a way through conflicts between being authentic in their ‘uncool’ passions versus caving into social pressures to follow ‘cool’ interests.
Reassure them of the value of their knowledge and try to find local clubs or online groups where fascinations can be explored with others of a like mind. Rather than feeling despondent for them, recognise that this dynamic continues throughout life and we simply tend to get on best with people who have similar interests to ourselves. Give them examples of how you genuinely like various people but couldn’t share a certain hobby with one or music with another.
4: “I am stupid”
Even high-achieving students can lack confidence in their abilities. Often, with a little detective work, it is possible to identify where they are trying to be ‘perfect’ or where a lack of experience means that ‘tried and failed’ is taken to be ‘forever failure’.
Perfectionism can be crippling and any tiny mistake can seem overwhelming – especially to a learner who has previously acquired deep knowledge with minimal effort. Opportunities to build resilience and foster ‘growth mindset’ are key, which may well include advocating for more challenging schoolwork or home education projects. See Potential Plus UK’s blog: 10 Questions about Mindset and High Learning Potential
Support any increased desire to achieve, master tasks and perform at the highest possible level. Alongside this, show that you are proud of their stepped achievements, emerging dedication and growing understanding that a few ‘failures’ are to be welcomed along the way!
5: “I can’t trust your judgment”
Children with high learning potential tend not to give respect automatically; even those ‘in authority’ have to earn it over time. That is not to say that they disrespect authority figures. However, becoming aware as a young child that your sense of justice or academic knowledge can outstrip that of your parents or teachers can naturally lead to a crisis of confidence.
‘False confidence’ is a risk as young people are not mature enough to realise what they don’t yet know. Alongside this, anxiety can take hold because feeling unable to trust the judgments or reassurances of one’s elders is quite worrying.
Unfortunately, your opinion of their worth and strengths may be of little comfort. Try to find objective, factual ways of assessing life situations, (e.g. scientific research or social polls), or measuring their achievements (e.g. educational grades, sports/music certificates or computer game high-scores), and never forget to keep nurturing their positive self-esteem.
Even though it can be two shaky steps forward, one step back, supporting a young person with high learning potential on their path to healthy confidence and positive self-esteem is well worth the effort. It allows them to build a bridge of trust to a fulfilling future coloured with contentment, trust and rewarding ambition.
Resources to Help You to Help Them
From Potential Plus UK
- I Believe in Me. Positive Self-Esteem for High Potential Learners – How to Help Them Believe and Thrive https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/2020/09/16/i-believe-in-me/
- Helping to Raise Self-Esteem in High Learning Potential Children (Advice Sheet) available at https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/product/pa602-helping-to-raise-self-esteem-in-high-learning-potential-children/)
- 10 Questions about Mindset and High Learning Potential https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/2020/01/21/10-questions-about-mindset-and-high-learning-potential/
- How to Kick-Start Motivation https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/2020/06/11/how-to-kick-start-motivation/)
- Creativity of Thought (including creative confidence building) at https://potentialplusuk.org/index.php/2020/08/18/creativity-of-thought/
- 10 Ways to Boost an Able Child’s Confidence at https://www.theschoolrun.com/gifted-child-confidence-boosters has some great suggestions.
- Developing Self-Esteem in Gifted Teens at http://summitcenter.us/developing-self-esteem-in-gifted-teens-by-melanie-brown-kroon-lmft/
- F. Pascual. I am Amazing: A Coloring Book for Kids: Positive Affirmations to Boost Your Child’s Self Esteem
- Coombes & O’Shea. Be Positive! Mindful Kids. (Activities for self-confidence).
- H Boorman. The Gifted Kids Workbook: Mindfulness Skills to Help Children Reduce Stress, Balance Emotions, and Build Confidence.
- L M Schab. Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals.
- M Maccutcheon. The Ultimate Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Overcome Insecurity, Defeat Your Inner Critic, and Live Confidently
- M Fox. Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens: A Cognitive Therapy Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Creating Unshakable Self-Esteem
- M. Pett. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes (Ages 4–8)
About the author: Gillie Ithell is a writer and editor for Potential Plus UK with a B.A. in Modern Languages & Communication and further qualifications in mental health. Having worked internationally as content manager of classic board games and ‘edutainment’ software, Gillie now writes to inspire others like herself; on a daily journey with High Learning Potential.