Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

Encouraging Piano Practice

Boy Playing Piano

Dear Dr. Rene,

My seven-year-old son has been taking piano for six months. The first several months came easy to him, and he was happy to practice. Now that the learning is requiring a bit of effort, he grumbles about the practice. How can I encourage him to practice without being all ‘tiger mom’? I’d like to instill a small sense of obligation and self motivation.


Nancy G., mom of 2

Dear Nancy,

It’s great that he enjoyed the first several months, and there are lots of things you might try to encourage ownership and add enjoyment moving forward.

  • Set reasonable expectations and times – At seven years old you might expect 20 minutes a day, five days a week. You could offer to break this into two 10-minute stretches if that fits. It may be helpful to have a chart by the piano where he can check off his practice times.
  • Give choices – It may be helpful to give him choices. Give choices about when to practice, either before or after snack, right after school or right after bath. Give choices about the order of things within, either scales first or review last weeks song.
  • Add fun – As he is practicing, sometimes sit for a recital, sing along with songs, record songs to play back or send songs to others over the phone. Every fourth lesson, our piano teacher would play musical notes UNO with the girls. I think she made the cards herself but the girls loved it.
  • Avoid rewards but occasionally build in things that are related – I’d avoid things like stickers and start charts, but it’s fine to occasionally give related things. As he is practicing, this might be a new piano book or downloading new music. It’s better to give as a surprise, rather than something to work towards.
  • Go on related outings – Take him to see an orchestra. If you are in Northern Virginia, take him to The Fish Market on the early side of piano night. My girls loved going there for an appetizer dinner and listening to everyone sing along with the piano player.
  • Highlight practicing – When the girls were little it took them each about 3 summers of swim lessons to be able to swim across the big pool. We reference that often when it comes to practicing new skills. When Alicen bumped up against multiplication tables in third grade, we compared this to swim lessons. It takes a lot of effort over a period of time to master a new task, but eventually it becomes easy.
  • Swap for practice – Once in a while, you might let him stay up 20 minutes late if he is practicing, or you might let him out of a daily chore for practicing.
  • Give descriptive praise – When you give praise, be sure you are praising his effort, “you learned every note,” process, “you can play those scales so fast,” progress, “you know it better this week than last,” or effort, “you practiced everyday this week.” Avoid praising outcomes, “what a pretty song. I like that!”

Hopefully something in here helps!


Dr. Rene

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