Self Confidence vs Self-Esteem! Why We Must Know The Difference!

A lot of children who appear self-assured or outgoing etc., are often regarded as ‘self-confident’. And they may be, of course.
But that’s not to say that they don’t have unmet emotional needs, or that they’ve got good self-esteem.
Self-confidence and self-esteem often go hand in hand. But just as often, they don’t.

Part of the problem, of course, is that ‘self-confidence’ and ‘self-esteem’ are rather subjective… There’s no universal definition of either, much less ways of measuring them.

But I get asked this question a lot… What’s the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem? Is there one?
And while I’d say that, yes, the line is a bit blurred, there are some important distinctions between them.   

The first thing about confidence is that, while a person – child or adult – can be self-confident, overall, there are huge variables according to the task in hand.
For example, some people are terribly unconfident about public speaking… But ask me to talk about my subject in front of an audience and I am super-confident.
On the other hand, ask me to bake a cake, and I am not confident at all; I watch Bake Off with envy…

In other words, confidence is a by-product of the ‘human doing’.
And, while there’s an interactive relationship between confidence and self-esteem, the latter is less about what we do, and more about who we are; the human being.
But what we do is fluid and ever-changing… who we are is not…

So if you want to develop your children’s confidence, the quickest win is skills development; help them get stronger at something, to feel more competent and capable.
And that can certainly be good for self-esteem. But don’t assume that the ‘confident’ kids automatically have good self-esteem.
However, there’s nothing close to a check-list of ‘good self-esteem’, so just how on earth do we strengthen it???

Actually, there is a very simple way of understanding self-esteem that can take a lot of head-scratching out.
It starts by no longer thinking of it as one fluffy, woolly ‘thing’, but a collection of component parts.
The model I subscribe to was created by my mentor, Dr Elizabeth Morris (published E A Morris), and defines;

“Our self-esteem is how positively or negatively we feel about ourselves. 

It is the value we put upon ourselves as a unique and valuable human ‘being’ rather than a human ‘doing’.

It depends on how well we know ourselves, the extent to which we believe we are accepted and loved for ourselves and on our belief that we can exert an influence on other people and the world”.

And in this description, there are actually three ‘developable’, but fairly simple aspects;

1) The Sense of Self: i.e. A person’s sense of identity, a connection to the physical self, and an awareness of who they are; their likes, dislikes, personality.

You can help strengthen children’s Sense of Self by supporting them to use their senses and their body; their strength, their flexibility, to fill space, to be noisy… To help explore their likes and dislikes, their strengths, weaknesses, preferences and personality…
Or, because children spend a lot of their lives learning what they are (or are believed to be) from other people, encourage their involvement in being the person who shapes their own identity.

2) A Sense of Personal Power: i.e. Believing oneself to have agency, feeling competent and having a sense of influence on the world.

Reinforcing children’s Sense of Personal Power is about practicing autonomy, which is why I make a big deal of giving children choice; if for no other reason than to strengthen the internal view of themselves as a decision-maker, the master of their own ship.
Hence why I am also so resistant to the pursuit of mindless compliance and quiet obedience. It might serve their grown-ups, but it doesn’t serve the child.

3) A Sense of Belonging: i.e. A person’s belief that they are valued for who they are and that they’re accepted and loved for themselves.

I will say it until I die… As appropriate as it can be to our role and relationship with them, we can’t love children enough. We can’t be too kind, too accepting, too compassionate.
People might tell us as parents that we’re creating indulged, over-dependent children. And of course we can do that… But not by ‘loving them’ or ‘caring’ too much.

That’s not to say we don’t practice boundaries or teach social skills of self-management strategies etc. I would argue that we must. But I will also argue that we can – and must – respond to the unique individuals that they are, with all their human flaws and imperfections as well.

And we’re don’t achieve that by only accepting them into our lives, on ‘conditions that’….
“You only belong here, if....”
“You are only welcome here, if...”
“You are only wanted in my world, if.….

Necessary; even healthy as they are sometimes considered to be; this is why I can’t, and won’t ever endorse the all-too-common practices of ‘discipline and control’ which ultimately serve to shame and exclude children.
In the end, all they do is help children write completely untrue stories about who they are, what they are capable of, and their place (or lack of) in the world.

when kids grow up believing that they are loved and accepted – unconditionally – they also learn they are loveable, and acceptable, unconditionally.

And how else do they set high standards for how they expect to be treated by others in their lives?…
Or how they themselves treat others?

If we want them to insist that kindness or loyalty are central their relationships, it starts with our kindness.
If we want them to value their worth enough to set and protect their boundaries with others, it starts with how we respect and value them.

Remember it’s our intentions usually have more power than ‘interventions’…

PS) If you  want to know about my ‘Building Self-Esteem’ training session, visit this page or to make an enquiry.