Create Real Confidence With the "3 C's"

Anyone with low self-esteem can benefit from these “Kid Confidence" tips!

Posted Jan 22, 2019

Image by SchoolPRPro, pixabay, CC0
Source: Image by SchoolPRPro, pixabay, CC0

Kid Confidence

How can concerned adults and parents help kids with low self-esteem? And would such ideas help you and me and other adults in our own search for self-confidence? As someone who has been intrigued by the latest research and writing on confidence, these questions are of vital importance and interest to me.

A fascinating new book, Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem, by PT blogger Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, provides a valuable new framework for helping children. While adult self-confidence is not Kennedy-Moore’s focus, I found many lessons for adults who seek more self-confidence, too.  I’ll describe Kennedy-Moore’s unorthodox take on low self-esteem, outline her solutions for helping children build confidence, and apply a few of those useful ideas to both children and adults. (Disclosure: Kennedy-Moore and I are in the same blogging community here at PT.) 

How “Self-Focus” Can Undermine Self-Esteem

As I read Kid Confidence, I found it striking how similarly adults and children act when trying to cope with self-doubt and harsh inner self-criticism. The bullet points below describe typical children with low self-esteem issues, but you may see the grown-up version of the child in your mind’s eye as well.  Do you recognize these people?

  • The girl in agony because she couldn’t decide whether to choose the red or purple bracelet that her grandmother had offered to buy her.  (Adult counterpart: The friend who constantly buys clothes and returns them, ever searching for the perfect wardrobe solution.)
  • The young boy who takes mild criticism as a sign that he’s “the worst kid in the world.” (Adult counterpart: The colleague who recoils from any feedback that is even a little critical.)
  • The sister who feels the sting of inferiority when she compares herself to her talented brother. (Adult counterpart: The person who doesn’t explore her talents because she couldn’t possible live up to her family’s standards.)
  • The child who feels friendless because no one invited him to be on their team at recess.  (Adult counterpart: The new office worker who hangs back from his colleagues because he imagines that they don’t like him.)

You might think that effusive praise, kind correction, and reassurance could help such children by strengthening their ego.  One of the most counterintuitive aspects of Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s work is her belief that more “self-focus” is not the answer. In fact, Kennedy-Moore sees an unhealthy self-focus as the root cause of low self-esteem.  By “self-focus,” she means the anxious preoccupation with questions like, “How am I doing? Do they like me? Am I performing well?”  The child with low self-esteem obsesses about such questions and is besieged by constant and harsh self-judgment. When so self-critical and self-preoccupied, the child cannot simply relax, take in constructive feedback, or be open to the present moment. 

Then what is the answer to low self-esteem?

Creating Confidence with the “3 Cs”

To counter the hopeless and helpless feelings of low self-esteem, Kennedy-Moore offers three keys—the 3 C’s—that address children’s basic needs for Connection, Competence, and Choice. (The 3 C’s framework is adapted from the Self-Determination Theory of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, who use the terms “relatedness,” “competence,” and “autonomy.”) The way she sees it, the 3 C’s can help children stop judging themselves and start living in a more purposeful and wholehearted way. 

In a nutshell, here’s how the 3 C’s can quiet negative self-focus and promote confidence:

1.  Connection:  A feeling of belonging can promote a sense of security that allows a child to face the world with confidence.  When in healthy relationships with others, a child can stop obsessing about the Self and begin to care about others. 

2.  Competence:  Developing skills in areas of life that are meaningful to a person can take the spotlight off the “How am I doing?” question and re-focus it on building a life of purpose and meaning.  “Competence refers to gaining skills as well as learning how to learn, so children can do things that matter to them,” according to Kennedy-Moore.

3. Choice:  When children know that they have choices about important issues, they are more likely to be intrinsically motivated and can begin to feel in control of their own destinies.  In Kennedy-Moore’s words, “Choice is about being able to make decisions, figure out what matters, and choose to act in ways that are consistent with personal values.”

From Self-Doubt to Connection, Competence, and Choice

Do you need to give someone you know a confidence lift?  First show some empathy and get on that person's side, Kennedy-Moore suggests. Then think of the 3 C's and identify one way you could increase connection, choices, or competence.  For ideas, consider some of the options below.  The suggestions for children are from Kid Confidence; the suggestions for adults are my own brainchildren.

1.  Connection.  Ways to help children become better “connectors” might include the following:

  • Teach them to greet others by saying “hello.” (Low self-esteem kids have trouble with this!)
  • Teach saying “hello” back when greeted by others.
  • Help children develop friendships based on caring and common interests.

Ways to help yourself and other adults become better connectors:

  • Learn and practice assertiveness skills.
  • Take some of the initiative when it comes to setting up dates with friends; don’t let the other person do all the work.
  • Seek to understand the other person rather than to impress them. 

2.  Competence.   Ways to help kids feel more competent could include:

  • Teach specific skills and explain why they are important. Realize that teaching even a simple skill, like sewing on a button, could increase your child’s confidence.
  • Help children develop a learning “growth” mindset so that they realize that failure and setbacks are an inevitable part of learning. 
  • Urge them to try two ways to solve a problem before asking for help. 

Possible ways to help yourself and other adults feel more competent:

  • Take a class and learn something new every few months or so. 
  • Try two ways to solve a problem before asking for help. (Yes, this works for adults, too.)
  • Practice approaching life with a growth mindset: "I can learn from my setbacks."

3.  Choice: To help kids become more comfortable with choice, try these strategies:  

  • Explain what “rumination” is and how to distract yourself from too much of it.
  • Teach them to ask “What can I” questions. Examples: “What can I do to solve this? “What can I do as a first step to get started?”
  • Explain that there are no perfect choices.

To help yourself and other adults in the domain of “choice”… Well, all of the above are good strategies for adults, too!

Personal Testimony

Kid Confidence is a well-researched and humane look at the suffering that children with low self-esteem experience every day and how parents and other adults can help relieve that suffering.  I wish I’d had this book when I was a young parent and an elementary school counselor.  I would certainly have benefited from Kennedy-Moore's perspective as well as from her numerous examples, stories, and creative suggestions. In fact, I would have recommended it to every parent and teacher who crossed my path.

In any event, I’m grateful to Dr. Kennedy-Moore and Kid Confidence for providing such a memorable way to think about confidence. I won't forget the 3 C's of confidence any time soon!

© Meg Selig, 2019.  All rights reserved.  For permissions, click here.


Kennedy-Moore, E. (2019). Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Built Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.