When young people believe in themselves, you can hear self-belief in the words they speak and see it through their body language. Nonverbal cues like a “thumbs up” means “I’ve got this covered. I can handle this.” This sense of confidence and motivation is what we hope all children will feel deep within themselves.
But what does it mean to believe in yourself? Why is it important to the development of healthy and successful youth? And most importantly, how do parents and teachers nurture this highly-valued characteristic?
No one in the world of psychology is better known for the study of what these words mean than former Stanford professor Albert Bandura. Psychologists refer to the concept of self-belief as self-efficacy and define it as a belief in one’s capability to accomplish goals that influence the events in one’s life. In other words, when kids believe in themselves, they learn to chart their own meaningful lives, not a life someone else envisioned for them.
Self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem, a much-debated concept associated with self-worth. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is a determining factor in how we feel, think, behave, and motivate ourselves in the world. He maintained that when children learn to believe in themselves, they take positive actions on their own behalf and approach life as a challenge to be mastered.
In my interviews with young people over the years, I’ve discovered that, deep down, what they most want is to believe in themselves. Decades of research in child and adolescent development show that small everyday actions by parents, teachers, and caregivers help promote self-efficacy. The following list describes the types of home and school environments that most nurture this highly-valued human characteristic.
The actions listed above are a set of mutually reinforcing activities that provide opportunities for parents, schools, and communities to positively impact youth. They are a set of values around raising and educating healthy children that are steeped in the research on self-efficacy. How parents engage in these activities at home are different than how teachers or community leaders engage with them at school or in after-school activities. For example, communities collectively impact youth through the many services they provide while parents impact children by providing rich and stimulating home environments. Both are essential for positive youth development!
When parents, schools, and communities become more intentional about how they create healthy environments for youth, children grow to believe in themselves and in their abilities to chart their own meaningful paths through life.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is the author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation. A developmental psychologist and researcher, she works at the intersection of positive youth development and education.
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