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A Guide to Building Confidence in Preteens

Doctor Q&A

Licensed Master Social Worker with the Shawnee Mission Behavioral Health Unit

The period between being a child and a teenager can be tumultuous. This stage of life is innately awkward, as lots of changes are happening both physically and mentally.  However, it’s important to help your pre-teen navigate this difficult time successfully, as it can have a huge impact on their adult lives. 

The type of self-esteem that’s developed during childhood affects the risks a person takes, job performance, friendships, and even who they choose as a partner and how they function in a relationship. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, or role model, you can help pre-teens develop self-confidence using the following strategies:

  • Help him or her recognize and validate feelings. Part of becoming self-aware is learning how to identify and deal with different emotions. Help your preteen recognize these emotions by asking about ones you observe and helping name and articulate them. Create a non-judgmental environment to open up about their emotions.

    To increase communication with your preteen, it’s important to model expressing emotions in a healthy way. Don’t be afraid to share how you feel about different experiences happening around you. Try having everyone in the family share one positive event that happened in their day and one negative part of their day. This can be done while everyone is having dinner together. This is a great way to share emotions in a healthy, non-judgmental environment.  So, if you’re feeling anxious about that upcoming meeting at work, share this with your preteen. It will help them feel more comfortable to talk to you and it will also display that sharing emotions with one another is healthy.
  • Praise effort instead of results. Even if your preteen doesn’t win the race or get an A+ on every project, it’s important to praise the effort he or she put in. Doing this will encourage them to take risks and pursue their interests. Conversely, focusing solely on results can turn them into a perfectionist who will not be able to enjoy successes or take risks for fear of not being perfect.
  • Encourage him or her to be assertive. As your kids grow up, it’s important to give them the opportunity to voice what they want and explain why they want it. For example, if they want to stay up past 9 p.m., let them tell you why it’s important. Even if you end up not allowing it, it teaches them to ask for what they want.


If kids don’t learn how to be appropriately assertive, they can end up communicating in an aggressive, passive, or manipulative way as adults to get their needs met because they either lack the communication skills or have learned their needs and wants do not matter to others.

  • Support his or her interests and activities. Getting affirmation that their interests and activities matter is essential in developing a healthy sense of self in preteens. Allow them to take a few small risks within reason, such as trying a new sport or musical instrument. This will teach them to not be afraid of trying new things and will also build their confidence as they meet new people and learn new skills, perhaps even finding untapped gifts.

    Becoming more independent is part of the natural development phase, and it’s important not to squelch it so kids have the confidence to eventually go off on their own as adults.
  • Let him or her learn responsibility.  The key here is understanding the difference between “supporting” and “enabling.” Supporting is helping someone do something they are unable to do or assisting where reasonable help is needed. Enabling is doing something for someone that they are capable of doing. Enabling undermines self-efficacy—the belief in oneself to be competent to function in a given situation. When you enable your child, you are telling them ‘I don’t think you have what it takes,’ and this is a belief they will internalize and carry into adulthood.

    Instead, encourage your preteen to check in with the receptionist at their next doctor’s appointment or allow them the opportunity to plan the next family event. Encouraging more responsibility can make a big difference in helping your preteen build the confidence they need to become productive young adults.


If you need additional resources or support for building self-confidence in preteens, call Shawnee Mission Health’s Behavioral Health Assessment Center at 913-789-3218.