That is not a misprint or an exaggeration! Helping your child develop a healthy self -confidence has a great deal to do with dog-sledding. One of the most grueling races in dog-sledding is the Iditarod, a race across the tundra that is almost 1200 miles long. I wanted to know how the dogs were trained to run that race and in the process I learned something about self-confidence.

We live in a time where people believe that just giving praise or positive reinforcement (whether really deserved or not) will help children develop healthy self-confidence  This is the source of the “participation trophy” idea. It doesn’t work. Hollow praise does not build self-confidence or self worth.

The training for the puppies includes having them try to get over a log, over and over again. Then they had to walk out of the river, over uneven ground and they did this over and over. I asked the reason why because none of this seemed to relate to the dogsled race.

The trainer told me something very important. He said that he wanted his dogs to believe that there was nothing they could not get through, nothing they could not face. That is what is real self-confidence. It’s not a reward for just showing up. It is the confidence that comes from experience. From trying over and over again and sometimes failing. Then, from getting up and doing it again until you are emotionally strong enough to face what life has in store for you. That is self-confidence.

Development of self-confidence in this way is particularly important for boys.  They cannot achieve it in any other way.

What should a parent do?  You need to make sure your son has life experiences that allow him to:

  • Try himself against circumstances without your rescuing. You can think about these like logs that he needs to overcome
  • Overcome daily challenges without your help.

I had an opportunity to ride on a dogsled with a driver who had competed in the Iditarod.  He told me that as a result of that experience, he had learned to handle his life the same way. He learned to believe that he could handle circumstances, and also learned to take them one at a time. One log at a time. He learned not to be overwhelmed by many problems, but to tackle one at a time, just like he did on the trail. He learned not to worry about what was not happening, just to focus on overcoming one obstacle at a time.

Self-confidence is a result of experience, of trying things, of failing and then succeeding.