Stop Telling Quiet, Introverted Kids to ‘Be More Confident’

An introverted young girl is scolded for being “too quiet”

Our society wrongly thinks that confidence is all about being loud and loving the spotlight.

It’s the same feedback I’ve received in every report card and annual review since I was five years old: 

“I would like to see you work on your confidence.”

“I wish you felt more confident speaking up in class.”

“I want you to feel confident sharing your ideas.”

I’ll be honest: These days, I tend to take this type of feedback with a grain of salt. After twenty-some years of trying — and failing — to change my quiet, introverted way of thinking, working, communicating, and sharing my ideas, I’ve learned that no amount of cajoling from my teachers or bosses is going to magically make me appear “more confident.” More importantly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to conform to society’s idea of what confidence looks like.

But it has taken a lot of work for me to get here — and to rebuild the confidence that was, ironically, damaged by this type of feedback. Here’s why we should stop telling introverts to “have more confidence” — and what to do instead.

You can thrive as an introvert or a sensitive person in a loud world. Subscribe to our email newsletter. Once a week, you’ll get empowering tips and insights. Click here to subscribe.

What Is Confidence?

According to Merriam-Webster, confidence is “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances; faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way; the quality or state of being certain.” It stems from the Latin word “fidere,” meaning “to trust.” Therefore, to have self-confidence is to have trust in one’s self.

Notice how this definition doesn’t say anything about raising your hand in class or speaking up in meetings.

In fact, according to this definition, I had confidence in spades as a kid (maybe even too much at times). I knew, with the utmost certainty, when I turned in my homework that it had been done correctly. In third grade, I was appointed “class editor,” and I had no problem pointing out my peers’ grammar mistakes in their papers. (I had no problem pointing out my fourth grade teacher’s spelling mistakes on the whiteboard, either — I’m sure she loved me for that.)

I was fortunate to have parents who believed in me, encouraged my aspirations, and reminded me of my strengths and my ability to do anything I set my mind to. Like many introverts, I was bursting with creative ideas and big dreams, and I was unafraid to follow them. I spent my time creating stories and thought they were the best things ever. I wrote song lyrics and imagined that they’d probably be recorded by my favorite artists someday. I felt totally certain of the path I was on.

So, for a while, I shrugged off this type of feedback; nobody was perfect, and if my greatest flaw was that I didn’t speak up enough in class, I could live with that. I wasn’t lacking in confidence. I was clear-headed and trusting of myself.

Until I wasn’t.

Is social anxiety holding your child back?

Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverted kids experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is your child can learn the skills to overcome their social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show them how. This means happier school days, less resistance to social activities, more friends, and lifelong confidence. Click here to check out her online class, How to Crush Social Anxiety. For ages 10+.

The Hidden Message Behind ‘Have More Confidence’

Somewhere along the line, something changed. As I got older, especially in young adulthood, I noticed that this feedback about my apparent “lack in confidence” came with more urgency, more concern. I was questioned about why I was so quiet — and, therefore, obviously terribly unconfident. These experiences sent me a clear message: Something was wrong with me.

When you hear something repeated enough, you start to believe it. After years of being told I wasn’t confident, that I couldn’t possibly be confident because I didn’t speak up enough in class, or “participate” in the way my teachers thought I should, or fit in with all of the extroverted girls who had no problem twirling around in dance class in front of bleachers full of watchful parents while I stood back, preferring to watch from the sidelines, it started to sink in: Something was wrong with me.

Suddenly, I became self-conscious in a way I hadn’t been before. Even though I had always felt like I was engaged in class, that I was absorbing information and learning in the way that worked best for me, I started to notice that I was the only person who hadn’t raised my hand all semester. I started to notice that I was always the last person to speak in those dreaded Socratic seminars, my heart pounding and voice shaking when I realized all eyes were on me, waiting for me to take my turn. I noticed that I seemed to be the only person who hesitated to speak, the only one who seemed to have to write out a script and practice it in my head before I could give voice to a coherent thought.

Ironically, I started to lose trust in myself. Trust — the key ingredient in self-confidence. How could I trust myself if I thought I had confidence, but it turned out I didn’t? How could I trust myself when I couldn’t do this basic thing that came so naturally to everyone else? What now?

‘Confidence’ Does Not Equal ‘Outspokenness’

Our society has a narrow idea of what confidence looks like. We tend to equate confidence with extroversion: people who thrive in the spotlight, who speak with booming voices, who are comfortable mingling at networking events, moving through crowds with ease, and addressing audiences with poise. There is no room for introversion in this culture of confidence (let alone the anxious, overstimulated type of sensitive introvert whose voice might shake and skin might turn splotchy when all eyes are on them).

By repeatedly telling introverts they aren’t confident and their natural tendencies are weaknesses that they need to “overcome,” we are teaching them to see introversion — and, by extension, themselves — negatively.

Now, I am actively working to combat these feelings, to learn how to come back to myself and embrace my introversion, and to rebuild my confidence and deconstruct the idea that confidence has to equal outspokenness.

But, sometimes, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be now — if I’d be further along, more successful, happier, and more confident and secure, if I had gotten a different message as a kid. What if I had been encouraged to express my confidence in my own quiet way? What if I had been taught other ways to model self-assuredness? What if my teachers had recognized the opportunity to cultivate a different type of confidence, had helped me build my self-esteem, and assisted me in stepping into my power in a way that felt true and authentic to me?

To be honest, I still don’t know what that would even look like. Our idea of confidence is so skewed in one direction, and that cultural conditioning runs deep. But I do know that there has to be a better way to encourage quiet, introverted kids and help them build true confidence in themselves — rather than demanding that every child squeeze into a one-size-fits-all model of extroverted confidence.

How to Actually Encourage Confidence in Introverted Kids

Real confidence means believing in, and trusting, oneself. We will never be able to encourage quiet, introverted children to be truly confident if we only measure confidence by their ability to do things that don’t come naturally to them — speaking up, being loud, and boldly and fearlessly expressing themselves.

Here are a few things we can do to help raise more confident introverts. (Hint: Telling them to simply “be more confident” or speak up in class isn’t it.)

  • Talk about introversion early and often. Teach kids what it means to be an introvert vs. an extrovert. Acknowledge that introverts and extroverts have different strengths and weaknesses, but neither is better or worse, or right or wrong. Most importantly, let your introverted child know (through your actions) that they don’t need to be fixed — they are perfect just as they are.
  • Teach them how to set healthy boundaries. For many introverts (myself included), one of the most difficult things to do is to stand up for ourselves. True confidence means knowing when to say no and when to push back — especially against the extrovert ideal.
  • Emphasize their strengths. Introverts have so many amazing strengths, so be sure to highlight and compliment these in your introverted child.
  • Surround them with positive messages about introversion. Look for children’s books about introversion. As they get older, share helpful articles about introversion with them from sites like this one and books like Susan Cain’s Quiet. (Reading it was one of the most helpful and validating experiences for me!)
  • Help them prepare for challenges. Your child will inevitably be asked to do things outside of their comfort zone, and that’s a good and healthy thing. You can help them learn how to prepare for nerve-racking moments, like presentations at school or difficult conversations they might need to have, in their own introverted way. Help them prepare their talking points ahead of time and practice with them — these are skills they can lean on for the rest of their lives.
  • Put them in activities that work for them. For me, the aforementioned dance class was a nightmare, and the thought of group sports filled me with dread. Some introverted kids might want to try activities like these, and if that’s the case, it’s great to encourage that. But if your kid is going to struggle in those settings, it might be better for their self-confidence to encourage other interests where they can really be themselves. Think outside the box and find introvert-friendly activities your kids can thrive in — music lessons, book clubs, horseback riding, art camp, etc.
  • Teach them how to cope with the extroverted world. Introverts have different needs than extroverts, and in a world designed for extroversion, it’s up to us introverts to make sure those needs get met. For example, your child might come home from school feeling exhausted and overwhelmed after spending six or seven straight hours in a noisy classroom. Show them how to decompress and recharge so they can be their best selves.

Most importantly, remember that there is nothing wrong with being introverted. Introverts can be quiet, and just as fierce, confident, and strong as our extroverted counterparts. Let’s try instilling that message in our introverted kids and see how they flourish as a result.

You might like:

This article contains affiliate links. We only recommend products we truly believe in.