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How to Help Students Control Their Self-Doubt

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January 02, 2024


You can do it.

Everyone has a little voice inside their head that talks to them all day long. Most of us are unaware of exactly what it says; it is so ingrained that we just don’t pay attention. For some of us, that little voice cheers us on, telling us that our hard work paid off, that we are capable, smart, or great at what we do. For others, that little voice constantly berates us, telling us we are worthless, we should give up, or that we don’t measure up.

For most of us, that little voice falls somewhere in the middle. At times, telling us how great we did while at other times full of doubt. Some level of self-doubt is a universal, and even healthy, experience. Young children tend to have less self-doubt than older kids.  As kids begin school, gain experience and interact with peers, they may start to experience more self-doubt. Kids with special needs have additional difficulty in this area because they know in some way, they are different and keenly feel this difference.

The Effects of Self-Doubt

A little self-doubt can actually be a good thing. It’s good to know your limits. Knowing your weaknesses gives you the ability to improve upon them. If a child has blind confidence in themselves, especially in areas where growth is needed, it is difficult to grow.

Too little or too much self-doubt leads to kids overachieving and being anxious. For some kids, the perpetual negative chatter in their head becomes very motivating. When they are overachieving, they can, at least temporarily, quiet the negative thoughts. Unfortunately, this isn’t sustainable and kids that function this way tend to overdo it and get burned out. This leads to anxiety and depression. They are successful, but this success comes at a cost. It also sometimes leads to memorization, regurgitation, and forgetting.

Conversely, self-doubt can cause lack of motivation. When kids excessively doubt themselves, many times they give up. They think to themselves, “Well I’m never going to be successful, so why try?” or some variation of this.

How Can We Help Students Rein in Their Self-Doubt?

Help kids to be aware of that little voice inside their head and learn to change their self-talk so that it is more positive. Parents and teachers should model self-talk for kids. When you make a mistake rather than beating yourself up verbally (I can’t believe I did that! I feel so stupid!) try giving yourself a break (I made a mistake; that’s ok, now I can…).

Help kids focus on their effort rather than what they accomplish. We can control how much effort we put into our learning, but no one can control how inherently smart they are. When kids focus on what they can control they feel more confident and more empowered. Use the Making The Effort curriculum with your students to teach them the importance of effort and grit with real-life applications.

Talk to them: PBS.org suggests 

Parents can help children learn to squash self-doubt by uncovering the hidden worries and replacing negatives with positives.

Children need someone to listen to them. It’s important to validate their feelings rather than sending the message ‘You shouldn’t feel that way.’ Help identify the thinking behind their self-doubt. Perhaps they believe they aren’t smart or are incapable of something. Maybe they are simply overwhelmed and need help breaking down a task.

Teach them to Manage Anxiety: Teach kids mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing or guided imagery. When kids start to feel anxious or doubt themselves, they can turn to these techniques to redirect their thinking.

Social Media

Watch out for social media: Social media can fan the flames of self-doubt (in some cases it’s more like throwing on kerosene). While on social media, kids spend time trying to pretend they are something they aren’t. Posting pictures with filters, trying to be funny and garner likes, which doesn’t help them accept their authentic selves. Secondly, on social media kids spend their time looking at the surface best of their peers and compare themselves to others. In fact, according to childmind.org, psychologists have coined the term ‘duck syndrome.’ “The term refers to the way a duck appears to glide effortlessly across a pond while below the surface its feet work frantically, invisibly struggling to stay afloat.”

It’s important to minimize the effects of social media, but

It’s not about taking the phone away or having a single conversation.” She says, “Parents need to be diligent about making sure kids are getting a dose of reality and need to model healthy behaviors.

Minimize the time kids spend on social media but also provide them with opportunities to build their confidence and interact with others in healthy ways.

Self-doubt is a manageable issue, but one that affects almost every kid at some point in time. Teach your kids these skills so they can have confidence and do their best.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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