Children suffering from an anxiety disorder are often dealing with a number of issues that impact their daily life, such as having trouble in school, refusing to sleep alone, or even displaying behavioral problems.

These immediate issues tend to take center stage for parents—and other symptoms of anxiety disorders may be overlooked. But many kids and teens dealing with anxiety disorders are often also experiencing low self-esteem. In fact, the two issues usually go hand-in-hand, which is why it’s important to work with your child on a results-oriented plan to boost confidence.

Read on for strategies that will help your anxious child gain self-confidence—and ultimately reduce anxiety and stress.

Teach Positive Self-Talk

Even adults succumb to negative thoughts occasionally, and for children and teens, these thoughts can be particularly hard to manage. Anxious kids are often dealing with negative self-talk (I’m not good enough to try out for the soccer team, or She only invited me to her birthday party out of pity) that can compound their anxieties. But there are ways to turn these thoughts upside down. First, it’s important to create an environment in your home that encourages open, nonjudgmental discussions with your child. Ask what is bothering her and take her feelings seriously (no matter how trivial a worry may seem to you as an adult). As a parent, you can help her to understand that those negative thoughts are unfounded and that everyone feels nervous (even you!), but that’s no reason to limit interactions with peers.

Let’s take the example of your child being nervous about trying out for a sports team. First, you can remind them that most kids will be nervous about trying out, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good enough. Even the star player gets nervous! After you talk, move to action. You can help your child prepare by practicing at home and giving positive feedback. Encouragement and validation from a parent are integral to helping a child overcome self-confidence issues. Finally, you can also equip your child with simple tools to calm down, such as deep breathing techniques or a positive self-talk mantra to silently repeat (I love soccer and I’m here to have fun).

If children feel overly anxious about trying out for the soccer team, rather than throw them in the deep end, you can find other ways to help them build confidence in their abilities.

Keep in mind that there’s also nothing wrong with starting small. If children feel overly anxious about trying out for the soccer team, rather than throw them in the deep end, you can find other ways to help them build confidence in their abilities. Setting up a family game of soccer in the backyard or joining a community team that doesn’t require tryouts are both great ways to edge toward trying out for the team. Remember, you know your child best and can determine what level of stress he or she can handle when taking on a new activity.

Use Visualization Techniques

Anxiety and stress often stem from fear of the unknown. Worrying about things that may happen (What if I get the answer wrong when I raise my hand in class? What if everyone laughs at my new outfit?) is often a source of anxiety for children and teens. Helping them picture how a particular scenario may play out can help ease that anxiety. For example, let’s say your child wants to participate more in class, but has been too nervous to raise his hand. Walk through what the classroom scenario might look like and show them that things will be okay regardless of whether they give the right or wrong answer. First, picture the success scenario. What’s the best that can happen? You get the answer right (and you probably will if you think you know the answer). If you get the answer wrong? That’s okay, too. Ask them to remember a time a friend volunteered to answer and got it wrong. Did they think less of this friend, or admire them for being brave enough to participate? Chances are, the answer is the latter. Showing your child that answering incorrectly isn’t the end of the world can help to reframe a scary situation.

Make a List of Strengths

It’s easy for kids, especially those who are experiencing anxiety, to focus on the things they think they’re bad at. As a parent, try flipping the script and have your child focus on all the things she is good at. You can talk these through in a conversation, but even better, have your child make an actual list of things she’s good at and loves to do (I am a good friend. I help my baby sister. I love to sing and dance.). You can use these strengths to counteract some of the moments when she feels scared.

For example, if your child wants to try out for the school play but feels too shy, this list can remind the child that she or he loves to sing and dance and shouldn’t let shyness prevent them from doing something they love. For older kids and teens, a list can even help confront some of the negative thoughts they’ve had because of their anxiety. Encourage your child to write these down, along with counter-arguments about why the negative thoughts aren’t true (I was telling myself that I’m failing at school because I got a bad grade on a math test, but one bad test doesn’t mean I’m not smart). Creating a list like this can work as a springboard to develop self-confidence strategies and also serve as a reminder of all your child’s great qualities.

Model Confident Behavior

Unfortunately, anxiety isn’t limited to children and teens, and kids who have parents that practice negative self-talk or anxious behaviors will learn that this is normal and expected. Keep this in mind as you’re working with your child to boost his self-confidence. This means modeling appropriate social skills (having friendly conversations with peers and acquaintances, for example); not resorting to negative self-talk when you make a mistake; and even conquering your own fears. For example, if you are afraid to fly on an airplane, demonstrate calm behavior the next time you fly with your child. As a parent, you know that your child looks up to you, so modeling self-confident behavior can go a long way in helping him find his own voice and conquer his own anxieties.

Seek Help

Of course, if your child continues to suffer from shyness and anxiety that is impacting daily life, reaching out to a child psychologist is an important next step. The above tools can serve as a foundation to boost self-confidence, but a psychologist can help you and your child get to the root of those feelings of anxiety and shyness. There are a number of resources for finding a licensed psychologist, including the APA’s Psychologist Locator.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Being Me Confidence for Kids book cover

    Being Me: A Kid’s Guide to Boosting Confidence and Self-Esteem

    by Wendy L. Moss, PhD

    Do you like being you?
    Do you have confidence in yourself?
    Do you believe that there are kids who can like you for who you are and want to hang out with you?

    If you answered NO to any of these questions, how about turning those NOs into know-how? Being Me is loaded with tips and advice for taking on everyday challenges and for building up your confidence and self-esteem. Come on! Take a peek inside and find lots of ways to explore your strengths and feel more confident in school, with your friends…with everything! (ages 8-13)

  • BlossomPlays Possum cover

    Blossom Plays Possum: Because She’s Shy

    by Birdy Jones

    Ask me my name?
    Want me to play?
    Call on me in class?
    I say nothing and hope no one will see me. I call that playing possum. It’s my way of being shy.

    Blossom wants to speak up in class, and she wants to spend time with friends at lunch and at recess. But whenever she tries, she freezes up and plays possum instead! Can Blossom get past her shyness and have fun?

    Includes a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers by Julia Martin Burch, PhD, with more information on the cognitive-behavioral strategies Blossom uses to cope with shyness and ways to encourage your own shy child. (picture book, ages 4-8)

  • Circus Town Self Confidence Book Cover

    Don’t Put Yourself Down in Circus Town: A Story About Self-Confidence

    by Frank J. Sileo, PhD

    Welcome to Circus Town, where it’s okay to bumble, stumble, and fumble. But no put downs! Give yourself a break! Everyone makes mistakes!

    Join Ringmaster Rick, Larry the Lion Tamer, Polka Dot Patti, and world-famous trapeze artists Juan and Juanita as they practice more, ask for help, think helpful thoughts, and bounce back from mistakes and mishaps to feel more confident!

    Includes a Note to Parents and Other Caregivers with more information and strategies for fostering self-confidence in children and helping them develop positive feelings and beliefs about themselves. (picture book, ages 4-8)

  • What to Do When You Worry Too Much cover

    What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

    by Dawn Huebner, PhD

    What to Do When You Worry Too Much is an interactive self-help book designed to guide 6–12 year olds and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Metaphors and humorous illustrations make difficult concepts easy to understand, while prompts to draw and write help children to master new skills related to reducing anxiety.

    Engaging, encouraging, and easy to follow, this book educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change. Includes a note to parents by psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, PhD.

    This book is part of the Magination Press What-to-Do Guides for Kids® series. (picture book, ages 6-12)