09/05/2012 02:10 pm ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Reading, Writing and Math Are Not the Keys to Academic Success

Reading, writing and math are three things that parents and teachers have always looked at as indicators of success in schools.

The truth, though, is that three other things may be even more important than memorizing your math facts or writing the perfect essay:

A strong sense of self.

You might say that these three things are redundant. You might wonder why problem-solving and creativity are not part of this list in this era of 21st century learning. Realistically, if you are not confident, you will be less likely to take risks when it comes to problem-solving or thinking outside the proverbial box to show creativity. If you are afraid to stand up for yourself or are easily swayed when someone else offers a suggestion that others think is better than yours, you are not likely to demonstrate the depth of creative ideas that are swirling around your head.

Confidence, self-esteem and a strong sense of self are three seemingly simple characteristics that will help children of all ages excel and progress through school, and eventually as adults.

The trick is... how do we foster confidence in our children? Especially if you are like many of us, not exactly the poster child of self confidence every single day?

One answer is the simple fact of being a role model with our own behavior AND encouraging our children in very concrete ways. As people, we take in feedback across settings, through verbal and non-verbal cues. We read body language, we hear the words that are used to describe our actions, efforts, and even behavior.

Strategies to foster confidence in children:

It is not enough to say "that is great!" when you are looking through a child's school work. Providing concrete feedback like "I noticed you used descriptive sentences," or "I noticed that you capitalized at the beginning of each sentence," or even "I noticed that you used a lot of color in your picture," provide specific reinforcement. While we always want someone to "like" our work, the reality is that in life, not everyone is going to like everything we do. So starting children off with a foundation of confidence NOT built on what others like or dislike will help foster their inner sense of confidence and pride in their work.

As independent as our children want to be, they still need us. Reminders that we are there and that we care, perhaps a special lunchbox note or card hidden in their backpack, can go a long way to helping our children remember that we are rooting for them.

Reflecting on the good things is an important tool for life. Instead of coming home off the bus ready to list "who did what" and "what went wrong" during the day, we have a daily tradition of sharing two good things about her day. We can get to the frustrating things later, but helping her notice the sometimes small successes can help later when we do talk about anything that might have been frustrating.

Setting goals helps guide efforts and show progress. Children (and adults) often feel like they have to do everything well all at once. Asking a child to set a goal can help them focus their efforts and allow them to see themselves grow as they work to achieve that goal. Setting a goal also encourages conversations about what might make that goal difficult so that a child can think through the steps they will need to take to show progress. While we as parents have goals for our children, it is important to find out what they want to improve or work towards.

Fostering confidence in our children will help them not just in school as they speak in front of their classmates or demonstrate their knowledge to their teachers. Confidence, self-esteem and a strong sense of self will prepare them for real life...the real life that is, for better or worse, just a few blinks away.

What about you? What do you see as the keys to fostering confidence in our children or in ourselves?