Building Self-Efficacy

Alternative Title: Why I ran a race I knew I’d lose.

I’ve got some serious perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to motherhood. In my head I’m some kind of modern-day working June Cleaver. Nutritious meals cooked daily, family time chock full of wholesome activities, and parties worth re-pinning. Some of that does actually happen…but so do frozen chicken nuggets, dishes left in the sink, and weekends spent working overtime or running errands, because life is not perfect – its busy, messy, hard, and just plain life.

What I’m trying to remind myself is that it’s okay not to be perfect. Not only in the your-kids-just-need-you kind of way, but also for the value that lays in them seeing you struggle, and lose, and generally not being perfect.

I’ve loved the developing discussion right here on CTWorkingMoms on this topic over the past few weeks. Katie talked about it as coping skills and Dena discussed the victory of effort. To me, it is all about building self-efficacy in our children.

Self-efficacy is a theory introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura. Though, related to the self-esteem we are all familiar with, self-efficacy speaks more to one’s abilities. Self-esteem is feeling good about who you are, and self-efficacy is feeling good about what you are capable of. The subtle difference is an important one. Would it be nice to have a kid who likes himself? Absolutely. But, it’s something more to raise a child who believes in himself.

There are many ways we can build self-efficacy in our children. Providing responsibility and allowing them choices over their bodies is one. Another is encouragement and praise for the process, more so than the outcome. And, though it can be hard, sometimes we have to let our children struggle and let them lose. I’m not a believer in the “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy. Handing children success is not preparing them well for adulthood. Allowing our children to feel the pride that comes from working hard and overcoming is a gift. I saw early on with my son that if we swooped in and helped him at every struggle, the only message it would send is that he isn’t capable. That he needs help and that he can’t succeed on his own. So yeah, when we play games, I play to win and sometimes do – my children doesn’t deserve anything less.

But the most important way we can teach our children – the most important tool we always have – is modelling. This is why I laced up my running sneakers Saturday morning and participated in my first 5k.

Let’s be clear: I am not a runner.

I went into the race knowing it was going to be hard for me – knowing that I would finish at the bottom of the pack. And because of those afore-mentioned perfectionistic tendencies, it was hard to go out there and do something (in front of other people!) that I knew I would be bad at. But I did it anyway.

How did it go? Well, it was…humbling. I didn’t do well, but I did cross that finish line and was greeted by the cheers of my excited children.


“Did you win??” my daughter asked.

“Nope,” I responded.

Then my son jumped into the conversation with, “It’s okay if you didn’t win. You just like to try new stuff, right mommy?”

Yes, that’s right. I mean, it wasn’t always, but it’s who I want to be for them.

I think about 2, 5, 10+ years from now when they may come to me with a problem. They will encounter something really hard.  A struggle.  Something they work really hard for but still can’t quite seem to get. What will I say to them? What will I teach them about how our family responds to difficulty? What will I be able to share with them about the time that I knew something was going to be really hard but did it anyway?

How will my story impact theirs?

That is why I focus so much on self-efficacy. No matter what they are faced with, I want my children to say that they are capable of handling the situation. That they can do hard things – because, surely, that is what life will ask of them.


[photo credit #1 and photo credit #2]

9 thoughts on “Building Self-Efficacy

  1. Sounds like it was a smashing success on many levels! And before you know it, your drawers will be filled with race tees! A lot of 5Ks also have kids fun runs, this way everyone can get in on the action. Great job!

  2. When something that you are doing makes our kids so happy and so proud, you could never be a loser!! Seeing M and R jumping up and down screaming and cheering for you is something that i will remember for the rest of my life, and hopefully they will also!Like you said, the most important tool is modeling and you did that, so to me and our kids you are a winner! Love you!

  3. Congrats, Elise! Some dude said “the only people who lose are those that don’t try” (or something like that). You should be PROUD! ♥ Good for you, Sister!

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