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The Express Lane to Your Child's Confidence

And How They Can Handle the Merge

Your child’s interests are the express lane to their confidence. And here’s why:

Confidence is a combination of how you see yourself, believe in yourself, and treat yourself - your 💭 self-concept, your 💪 self-belief, and your 💖 self-compassion.

When your kid is exploring and developing their interests—whether that’s basketball or creative writing or video game design or gardening—it builds all three dimensions of confidence, simultaneously. (Scroll down to read how.)

But supporting kids in exploring their interests is easier said than done. In this Legender:

👉 Dr. B shares the research on common questions about after-school activities: how many your kid should do, what makes an activity good, and when they should quit.

👉 Dean Sue shares her biggest parenting pet peeve and how she hopes parents will approach their kids’ activities and interests.

👉 And I share some tips for helping your kid embark on what Dr. Albert Bandura called “mastery experiences”—deep dives into your interests that build your confidence for life.

When I said kids are exploring their interests, I mean they’re building all three areas of confidence at once. Here’s how:

  • 💪 Self-belief: The preeminent scholar on self-belief, Dr. Albert Bandura, found that the best way to build your self-belief was through mastery experiences—when you worked and worked at something until you reached a level of mastery you were proud of. When a kid practices their free throws over and over, or works on a writing or art project a bit every day until it’s done, they’re proving to themselves they can do hard things and improve, making them more likely to seek mastery their whole lives.

  • 💭 Self-concept: There are a few core building blocks of having a healthy self-concept, or self-image: having interests that inspire you, goals that motivate you, and communities you feel connected to. A kid who’s actively exploring their interests is building all three.

  • 💖 Self-compassion: This is the part of confidence that tends to be hardest for kids: being kind and accepting to yourself when you struggle and fail. Developing self-compassion requires positive experiences with failure, and realizing things are still OK. When a kid is intrinsically motivated to do something—doing it because they love doing the thing for its own sake, rather than to meet someone else’s expectations—they’re more likely to tolerate failure and not get frustrated when things don’t go their way the first time. The more they explore, the more they train their brains that making mistakes is not only OK, it can even be useful and fun.

Fish Stark
Head of Program & Curriculum

When it comes to the world of after-school activities—and how to help your kid get the most out of them—parents often feel like they have more questions than answers.

Luckily, the answers are out there, because we’ve been able to study these activities to determine what works!

Before coming to Legends, I led an in-house research team at the Boy Scouts. When I was getting my PhD at Tufts’ Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development, I worked with youth development programs around the country from 4-H to West Point to measure their effectiveness.

So if you’re looking for concrete answers on the most common questions parents have about after-school activities, look no further.

In my full article, I’ll answer these questions:

  • Is there a “right” number of after-school activities for my kid to be doing?

  • Some activities are better than others, right?

  • What do I do when my kid wants to quit? Let them quit, or push them to stick it out?


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When I look at teenagers and young adults who are confident, accomplished, and thriving, a lot of them have a common thread: an early habit of embarking on mastery experiences when they were young: attempting to write a novel, building increasingly elaborate Lego creations, choosing to practice their skills in their chosen sport over and over and over, starting businesses, and more.

Dr. Albert Bandura—the global expert on self-belief—described mastery experiences this way: “There is no better way to start believing in one's ability to succeed than to set a goal, persist through challenges on the road to goal-achievement, and enjoy the satisfying results. 

Dr. Ellen Galinsky talks about mastery experiences different way in her brilliant child development book, Mind in the Making. She uses the example of a lemonade stand her daughter was passionate about running as a child, and what she learned from it. “Every child needs lemonade stands throughout childhood. Caring strongly about interests beyond oneself engenders true focus.”

And I’ve seen it happen up close - before leading the program at Legends, I led the program at an organization that helped middle and high school students create their own service projects. I saw the impact it can have on a kid’s confidence when they identify something that’s personally meaningful to them and work on it over time. And I saw that there are ways parents and other adults can help—and ways they can hurt.

So here are three tips for helping your kid embark on a mastery experience (read the full article for details):

  • Let it emerge naturally, and encourage it when it does.

  • Provide support, not solutions.

  • Get curious, not evaluative.

Although I’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, I am still enormously concerned when a parent talks about their child’s engagement in after school activities, sports teams, or the college admissions process and uses the pronoun “we.” “We are trying out for the soccer team” or “we hope to be good enough to get admitted to that school/college” or “we are considering whether to take that standardized test again” or “we are trying to figure out what interests are best to pursue.”

The importance of parental participation in a child’s life is well-documented. Yet, this involvement can become excessive to the point that the child no longer has the opportunity to take responsibility for their own decisions, to develop confidence, to practice gaining independence and to experience consequences. In other words, this “we” approach delays a child’s ability to mature and grow towards adulthood.

Clearly, young children need their parents’ help to keep them safe and to help them make certain decisions. But once children reach a certain age and maturity, it’s time to let them take charge.


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