Confidence — What is it, how do we get it, how to instill it in our children May 30 2018

According to research, confidence is born of doing. Once success is achieved in one thing, or even if a failure occurs, the learning involved prompts confidence in the next attempt at doing something. Even in pre-existing DNA in a person, the level of confidence can be altered by activity, doing, trying. Therefore, having an approach to education that starts with doing things, experiencing things, is bound to generate confidence. Even the timidest among youngsters will feel confident once something is tried and will feel more confident when many things are tried.

“Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action,” is the definition given to “confidence” by Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University who has spent decades focused on the subject.

In a New York Times bestselling non-fiction book called The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman explore the differences in confidence in men and women. The book is a fascinating investigation of women in business and leadership roles of all kinds. The authors are interested in what they call “Womenomics” and what it is that makes a successful woman successful.

There are, evidently, some distinct differences in the ways women and men think, some of those differences are even embedded in our DNA. The drive in most women is toward perfection which holds many back from “leaning in” to catch the proverbial golden ring. If things are not perfect, women tend to hesitate or to keep working on something to make it perfect.  Men, on the other hand, lean in more readily without too much concern about whether an idea is perfect or likely to be rejected or accepted.

Many reasons for women’s want of confidence could be listed and these two successful journalists list just about all of them. However, there are some more ephemeral reasons that Rudolf Steiner mentions, that are missed by these two brilliant writers and researchers.

We know that we take up more than our physical space.  If anyone gets too close to us we tend to step back and protect our “space.” This area around each person could be called “personal space,” or we could identify a few people who can actually see what’s in our personal space. When a sensitive person can see this, it is called an aura.

Waldorf teachers take this a bit further, seeing the seven-year cycles of the developing child as actual birthings of different components of a mature person’s aura. The physical birth is, of course, when we start counting the years of a little one’s life. At around the age of seven, which is around the age when children lose their milk teeth and grow hilariously charming “big teeth.” (There is nothing more compelling than the smile of an eight-year-old! All spaces and giant front teeth.) In Waldorf, understanding this marks the time of the birth of the first sheath surrounding the physical body.  We call this the “etheric body” or “life body.” This is the aura that we share with all living things.

As the third seven years begin, puberty begins to become apparent. This we call the birthing of the astral body, the body of likes and dislikes, or the body of strong feelings and profound capacities for love. This surrounds the youngster with another “body” completing the sheaths we have for receiving the ego of each individual at age 21.

Interestingly, Rudolf Steiner explains something about the differences between boys and girls as it revolves around puberty or the birth of the astral body, in a collection of his writings and lectures on the topic in a book called, Observations on Adolescence, and also in the book of his lectures to teachers in the first Waldorf school, The Supplementary Course: Lectures on Adolescence.

Evidently, the birth of the astral body for girls already brings some ego with it. The symptoms of this might be found in the high verbal capacities many girls exhibit at the time of early puberty (or at the birth of the astral body). Also, many girls tend to take up a passion with intensity, suggesting a life mission or ego awareness at this early age of 13 or 14.

In boys, it’s very different. The astral body is born without any inclusion of ego as it is in many girls. This makes the boys less adept and less verbal than their female counterparts. In seventh and eighth grades, girls tend to roll their eyes, grab boys by the scruff of their necks to bring them along, and loudly lament the immaturity of their male counterparts.

This changes around the ages of sixteen or seventeen, when the astral body settles, and boys become less awkward with their new capacities born with the astral body.  Boys then can begin to help girls to focus less on feelings and more on tasks.

Around the age of twenty-one, with the arrival of the ego of each individual, boys tend to walk into their lives at this point with little trouble, while girls can often have a more challenging time separating ego direction from feelings, as a result of the earlier birth of the astral body.

Understanding these tendencies helps Waldorf teachers and parents to help youngsters to manage their feelings in middle school, and to surround each student with comprehending appreciation of what is actually happening to them with the right touch of compassion and directives. At the tender moment of arriving puberty and the birthing of the astral body, it’s an easy thing for a child to feel shy, lost, and upset at the incredible growth going on.  Girls often lose confidence at this age for math, science, and other clear-thinking activities. Boys become ill-adept at managing themselves in social situations, marveling at the girls who comprehend so quickly and express themselves so clearly. Trailing Clouds of Glory is a rich collection of essays focused on teaching human sexuality but full of good ideas for helping the young navigate puberty and its colossal changes and challenges.

Confidence comes from doing. And both boys and girls are well-served by parents and teachers who keep their youngsters active, both physically and artistically. Keeping up bargains about cleaning a room, or doing the dishes, or raking the yard, or finishing the homework due in main lessons, all teach the growing pre-teen that work makes us feel better and gain perspective. Confidence has a better chance of staying strong after deeds that create something beautiful, or practical, or intelligent, or social. With confidence, we can take action, meet the world, do the next necessary thing, and sustain focus. With confidence, we are less vulnerable, more open.  We give a gift of confidence for life to young people who are active.