Building Self Confidence in Adults & Children: The Importance of Self-Efficacy as a Developmental Goal

The concept of self-efficacy is based on the idea that one has the ability to successfully influence the outcome of given events in life. Building self-confidence in one's ability to determine such outcomes is an essential element of motivation. Whether or not one has the ability to actually control events is secondary to the belief that one has control. Dr. Kay Bussey and Dr. Albert Bandura have described four ways in which self-efficacy, and ultimately self-confidence, can be developed and enhanced.

First, activities or experiences where an individual has been successful in the past can be attempted and/or modified to fit his or her current level of competence. From there, a possible adjustment can be made so that the activity plays to the person's strengths and current level of ability — this will maximize the likelihood of success. The next step is to ever-so-slightly increase the difficulty or complexity so that there is a greater challenge involved, and also a greater sense of self-efficacy when success is experienced. This slight gradation of experience and accomplishment is not only effective at building self-confidence, but has also been shown to sustain and even increase the motivation to continue with the undertaking of increasingly difficult experiences. It is essential to increase the complexity or difficulty of a given task in a methodical manner to ensure that an individual is able to experience success, and therefore, an increase in self-efficacy.

Any number of academic or athletic endeavors could be applied as examples. For the sake of simplicity I will focus on mathematics and basketball. In math, a child learns — or should learn — to add single digit numbers successfully before moving on to subtraction. Then, simple subtraction is mastered before returning to more complex addition problems, followed in turn by more complex subtraction problems. This back and forth process is continued, ideally, until a basic sense of self-efficacy with regard to mathematics is established. Then, and only then, (in a perfect world) does a child move on to learning simple multiplication. Once the concept of multiplication is understood the task of learning multiplication tables is undertaken. As this process continues, division is brought into the equation (no pun intended), and the next thing you know... voila! A child is learning calculus.

A child who enjoys the game of basketball primarily on television and yet has no experience can be taken to a playground and be instructed in a few simple tasks that will, over time, prove very effective in building self-confidence. First, it is important to discover what activities a child can engage in successfully. Whether it is dribbling the ball, making a jump shot, or rebounding, a series of experiences should be attempted to determine which, if any, activity a child has at least some level of competence. For example, say a child cannot shoot within ten feet of the basket, ducks when the ball comes off the rim, and continually fumbles and trips when dribbling: we start by learning to pass and catch. Assuming that the ball can actually be caught and passed, a series of drills running up and down the court, with and without obstacles, would be the place to begin. As time marches on and the child learns to control the ball, simple dribbling exercises can be incorporated into the passing and catching drills. Once the fear of the ball has diminished, rebounding can gently be incorporated into the passing, catching, and dribbling drills. Eventually, a feel for the ball will develop and the child can be taught to shoot while standing close to the basket; with success the child can move further and further away from the basket until the next thing you know they are consistently making three point shots. Finally, all of the skills can be incorporated together and... voila! College scholarship.

The second way in which self-efficacy can be instilled, according to Dr. Bussey and Dr. Bandura, is to provide models. A couple of examples in mathematics that most children seem inspired by are Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Albert Einstein did not speak until after his fifth birthday and Stephen Hawking is confined to a wheel chair $mdash; these facts alone are often effective in building self-confidence in children who struggle with understanding math. On a more personal level, a teacher, tutor, older sibling, or parent who once struggled with math would be well served to share the difficulties they overcame when trying to build self-confidence in a child facing similar challenges. In the domain of basketball, taking a child to professional as well as local high school and college games would be an ideal first step. Finding an opportunity to meet a player or two in person would serve the purpose of demystifying and humanizing them, thereby increasing the possibility that a child could see that he or she has more in common with that player than one might expect at first glance.

Applying social persuasion to increase self-efficacy can be accomplished in three primary ways: by challenging mistaken beliefs with regard to ability; by attributing lack of success to a lack of effort instead of a lack of ability; and, by giving constructive support and suggestions. Quite simply, with regard to both mathematics and basketball, building self-confidence can be accomplished through verbal encouragement and the discussion of one's belief system. Challenging mistaken beliefs is best accomplished by focusing on the level of effort applied at any given point. If the amount of time devoted to a given task can be assessed and then modified, it is likely success will soon follow. For example, if someone only devotes thirty minutes a day to math homework or shooting baskets, simply increasing the time allotted to one hour a day will most likely not only solve the problem, but will also lead to an increase in self-efficacy because an individual will see results and then be able to attribute those results directly to an increase in effort.

Applying social persuasion to increase self-efficacy can be accomplished in three primary ways: by challenging mistaken beliefs with regard to ability; by attributing lack of success to a lack of effort instead of a lack of ability; and, by giving constructive support and suggestions. Quite simply, with regard to both mathematics and basketball, building self-confidence can be accomplished through verbal encouragement and the discussion of one's belief system. Challenging mistaken beliefs is best accomplished by focusing on the level of effort applied at any given point. If the amount of time devoted to a given task can be assessed and then modified, it is likely success will soon follow. For example, if someone only devotes thirty minutes a day to math homework or shooting baskets, simply increasing the time allotted to one hour a day will most likely not only solve the problem, but will also lead to an increase in self-efficacy because an individual will see results and then be able to attribute those results directly to an increase in effort.

The final suggestion from Dr. Bussey and Dr. Bandura is to focus on reducing or eliminating factors that inhibit self-efficacy. The primary obstacles are stress, depression, anxiety, and environmental influences. By changing the environment or teaching coping techniques that enhance self-confidence, the likelihood that an individual will experience success in any given endeavor increases dramatically. This will lead to an increase in the expectation of success and therefore will increase motivation, which in itself will lead to a greater likelihood of success. Changing schools, finding a tutor (or a new tutor), teaching relaxation techniques for test taking, or simply switching seats in a classroom are possible options to promote success and self-confidence in math. Joining a local recreation center, finding a coach, teaching visualization techniques are possibilities to promote self-efficacy in basketball.

The utilization of any one of these suggestions would enhance self-efficacy in the examples of mathematics or basketball. Each suggestion, as previously stated, would serve an individual well if applied to any academic or athletic endeavor. If all four suggestions are incorporated together the increase in self-efficacy will be greater and quicker. This will lead to further motivation to sustain effort, which will eventually lead to a sense of mastery, which, in turn, will lead to yet an even greater sense of self-efficacy. The spiral of expectation of success and a continual increase in self-confidence has the potential to continue indefinitely.

If you or a family member close to you would like to receive additional information on Building Self-Confidence or are considering Individual Counseling, Child Counseling, or Counseling for Self-Esteem, please fill out a Initial Consultation form for a complimentary consultation.

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