Young teen with long black hair with a thumbs-up sign indicating she feels confident.
Building self-efficacy can help your child experience healthy relationships.


Self-efficacy is the idea that if you believe you can do something, you can. Somehow, you will figure out a way to succeed. And if you don’t, you take that experience as a learning opportunity and move on to your next conquest. This is also how we build resilience.

The article by Courtney Ackerman, What is Self-Efficacy Theory in Psychology?, explores the importance of self-efficacy throughout the lifespan. Self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem, however.  As the article states,

“Self-esteem is conceptualized as a sort of general or overall feeling of one’s worth or value (Neill, 2005). While self-esteem is focused more on “being” (e.g., feeling that you are perfectly acceptable as you are), self-efficacy is more focused on “doing” (e.g., feeling that you are up to a challenge).

High self-worth can definitely improve one’s sense of self-efficacy, just as high self-efficacy can contribute to one’s sense of overall value or worth, but the two stand as separate constructs.”

In other words, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, but what you do reflects your self-efficacy.

Think about it. How do you approach a new learning opportunity? Do you think, “I could never do that” and settle in to watch the latest Netflix binge? Or do you consider, “Hum. It might be difficult, but I’m willing to give it a shot and see what happens!” (Entrepreneurs  know exactly what this is about.) Those who give it a go often have a healthy dose of self-efficacy, which builds their resilience and self-esteem.

super hero daughter on the shoulders of her dad demonstrating resilience.
As parents we must teach out kids how to be resilient. Modeling resilient behavior is a great place to start.

Resilience matters when talking to kids about sex and relationships.

Self-efficacy and resilience, the ability to bounce back after a disappointment, play a role in relationship-building. When individuals are testing the dating waters, as a young adolescent or even as an experienced adult, it can feel a bit…awkward. Self-esteem, the part of you that feels pretty good about who you are, suddenly waivers. You once confidently strolled into Math class, but now are profoundly aware of the cute person sitting next in the adjacent chair and bashfully wave hello. This new revelation of infatuation now causes spontaneous perspiration and blushing and the decreased ability to form cohesive sentences.

You wonder, “Will this person like me? Should I ask them out? What if they say ‘no’?”

Building Resilience

As parents, we certainly understand the emotional confusion that comes along with adolescence and emerging romance. Start a conversation with your child. Discuss what the potential outcomes may be if and when they respectfully approach this special person. Perhaps this person is not interested in dating. It may have nothing to do with your child;  they may have a different sexual orientation, or may not be ready for a romantic relationship, yet they may be interested in just being friends. Help them understand other perspectives. This helps to build empathy for others, but it also helps your child develop self-esteem and resilience.

This is also where the conversation about enthusiastic consent comes in. Once the person says no to romance, that part is done. Yes, it may be disappointing and they may feel hurt, but this experience helps them build resilience and self-efficacy that will help them navigate their next romantic opportunity. Be sure to share your own stories of unrequited love. We all have them!

Legs of a couple kissing with consent.
Consent is a part of the big picture of self-efficacy.

Understanding Consent

Help your kids navigate unwanted sexual advances by participating in role-play; practice the art of saying “no” and the grace of accepting “no”. This allows your child to develop the social and emotional tools to form and maintain healthy relationships. These tools help build self-efficacy and enhance their understanding of consent.

Consent is a topic that must be emphasized. Unfortunately, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine (Journal of the American Medical Association) recent article, 6.5% of women were forced in some manner to have sex with an individual typically 6 years older than their 15.6 year old selves. That works out to about 3.5 million women being sexually assaulted as their first sexual experience, and two years earlier than women who engage in consensual sex.

Think about that for a minute.

Heidi Stevens writes in her Balancing Act article Column: For 3 million women in America, their first sexual encounter was a rape. Our kids deserve better odds and better guidance  that there are two important questions to ask kids on an ongoing basis. “I wonder how she feels about that?” and “Don’t feel bad for saying no.” Those two sentences develop empathy and compassion for others, which ties into consent. But it also requires self-efficacy and the confidence to state an emphatic “no” or to gracefully accept a “no”.

Mother and pre-school daughter kissing to represent a healthy family relationship.
The conversations about consent, resilience, and self-efficacy begin when your children are very small. They learn from your behavior and also from early childhood relationships experiences.

Self-efficacy and your child

Support your child’s efforts as they build self-efficacy, confidence, and resilience. Introduce these skills during the grade school years. Build upon your child’s experiences with playmates and friends and ultimately with romantic interests.

  1. Model self-efficacy by exploring new, slightly uncomfortable experiences, such as participating in a 5K.  Encourage your children to do the same, within reason.
  2. Demonstrate resilience by sharing experiences in which you learned to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and move on. You survived, and they will too.
  3. Role-play. Practice how to accept rejection gracefully and also how to gracefully refuse others.
  4. Incorporate Heidi Stevens’ two simple, but important questions into everyday conversation: “I wonder how she feels about that?” and “Don’t feel bad for saying no.”

If you find that your child struggles with issues of self-esteem, resilience, and self-efficacy at a level that does not seem within normal limits, it is always a good idea to find a great adolescent psychologist.

Society is rapidly changing the landscape of how we approach sexual assault, consent, and accountability. Finally. By building our kid’s self-efficacy, and ultimately their understanding of consent and respect,  we can do our small part to make a huge impact in this social landscape.



Note: All photos: Adobe Stock.
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