When my son Wes was in first grade, his class put on a cowboy show in which the class square danced and sang several songs. The big performance for the parents was Friday night, and, unfortunately, we had to be out of town, leaving directly after school. To be able to see the performance, we were invited to the dress rehearsal. It was an enchanting show, as only a show can be when being performed by cherub, six year olds.

After the performance, the first grade teachers approached us to tell us how much they were going to miss Wes for the Friday night performance. My husband and I thought the teachers were being polite and thanked them for their kind words, when they said, “No, really. Wes is the only one you can hear singing. Is one of you a performer? Do you work on that at home?”

Bill and I were taken aback. We stammered and shook our heads. Finally I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “We sing really loud with the radio.”

Without knowing it, we had instilled in Wes confidence in his singing ability. He may not have had the best voice, but we didn’t know because neither did we. We never criticized Wes, only encouraged him.

I wish this story had a neat ending… Wes now regularly performs solos with his school chorus, but the truth is, he isn’t even in chorus any longer. That’s the thing with kids, and with life, you never know what changes lay ahead.

The story does have a point. Wes had confidence and therefore performed well. If we instill confidence in our children and students, we can help them, too, to perform well.


When we are faced with change, as humans we inevitably imagine what the change will look like. Whether it is a transition to a new school, a new class, or a new subject to be studied, what lies ahead begins with what we imagine it to be.

It is natural for children to talk to trusted adults about how they are imagining the transition to occur. This is our opportunity to instill confidence by guiding their imagination toward future success.

When I teach a poetry lesson, I am always faced with students who claim quite boisterously, that they HATE poetry. I acknowledge their feelings and try to imagine why they might dislike the subject. Usually, students who feel like they can not be successful with a subject, hate that subject.

“Do you listen to the radio?” I ask.

“Of course.” They answer, sure I am trying to change the subject so as to distract them from how much they HATE poetry.

“Do you ever sing along with the lyrics?”


“Can you sing me some lyrics now?”

Most teenagers are eager to share with me some of their favorite lyrics, to which I respond that those lyrics are poetry.

Suddenly, the student sees the future as something different from what he or she has imagined and therefore, the outcome could be different; they may be successful at the endeavor.

Redefining the change helps children redefine the imagined outcome.

The redefined imagined outcome allows for the possibility for success.

The possibility for success leads to confidence.

Perceived Failure

Sometimes the child has a belief that there will be a negative outcome which is based on past experiences.
Ezeriah did no work in my class for the first eight weeks of class. None. Finally, one day while the class was walking to the library, I was able to talk to him about the situation.

“I’m horrible at English.”

“Eze, you know my class is a safe place to make mistakes. Just turn something in and let me decide if you’re horrible.”

Ezeriah is now passing my class. He does have some spelling and reading challenges, but he is capable of much more than he gave himself credit for.

I didn’t tell Eze he was wrong. Doing that would have been dismissing his perception of reality, making him bad at one more thing. Instead, I acknowledged his belief and allowed for a new future.

As adults we can help children see themselves as capable despite the past, by imagining for them and with them a new outcome. Asking questions such as:

*what’s different about this situation?

*how are you different this time?

*what could happen to make it a good situation?

and other such questions will help children feel confident in their ability to face situations which may have been difficult in the past.

Maria Shriver was on Oprah quite a while ago and I remember her talking about how when she was a child, her father made her feel so special because every time she entered a room where he was, he was always so happy to see her.

I have tried to do that with Wes. Recently I picked him up from school early and was waiting in the office for him as a student TA retrieved him from class. When he finally came around the corner, he had the demeanor of a middle school boy: hunched shoulders, downcast eyes, leery stance. Then he looked up at me.

“There’s my favorite boy.”

Wes immediately straightened and brightened. His confidence in himself was physically restored by my belief in him. I witnessed the transition in him.

As parents and as teachers, we can do this for all the children in our lives.

Author's Bio: 

Diane Mierzwik is the author of "Quick and Easy Ways To Connect with Students and Their Parents," "Classroom Record Keeping Made Simple" and "Wishes in the Field." She can be reached at www.dianemierzwik.com