Therapeutic schools: How can we teach self-belief?

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Many children in our schools are vulnerable and suffer from a lack of confidence. Continuing her therapeutic schools series for Headteacher Update, Shahana Knight offers two lesson ideas to boost self-belief

Think about the concept of education, school and teaching for a moment. What is its purpose? Surely the purpose of educating children should reflect the needs of the society in which they find themselves in.

It should be concerned with moulding, guiding and inspiring children to want to learn; cultivating individuals who believe in themselves and their unique potential – who believe they can make a difference to our world and help others.

In recent years, our society has changed dramatically. We can now create successful businesses online that solve problems and offer solutions to people – all from the comfort of our own homes, and sometimes in mere months. We are in an era of the creative, innovative worker, that takes us outside of the 9-to-5 norm and celebrates people’s unique talents. Increasing numbers of people are now working for themselves.

When children are outside of school they are inspired by YouTube creators, social media influencers and self-made business owners who spend their days living out their talents and creative passions. The world no longer has a one-size-fits-all mould for "the workplace".

Yet there is still an expectation for schools to spend most of their teaching time focused on conventional lessons like maths and English. Although there is a place for these lessons, the skills taught do not predict success as they may have once done.

But what about those thousands of children in the UK struggling with adverse childhood experiences, those who do not have confidence, self-belief, positive mindset or resilience to push through challenges? Who come to school and are triggered by the education system every single day because it challenges their feeling of safety by silently communicating that they are not good enough.

Their internal thoughts tell them they cannot do it, that they are not valued for who they are, or seen as individuals. Those children tell us every single day that conventional learning is not working. How do they tell us this? Through their behaviour. It is evident to me that this is a sign that education needs to change. Let us teach them lessons that will have a much longer and larger impact on their lives.


The first thing we need to recognise is that many children are consumed by negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves. Often these have been crafted over time due to life experience and feedback from others. Before we can expect inspired learners, who succeed through using their own skills and unique gifts, they must be taught to believe in themselves.

Lesson idea: You are not your thoughts

Our thoughts are independent of us and yet we allow them to exist in our minds, listening to them and letting them affect our days and our choices. The thoughts “I am not good at this”, “I am the shy one” or “No-one likes playing with me” are fabricated in our own minds and yet we carry them around with us and listen to them as if they are fact.

It is important to teach the children that they have a control over their own thoughts and they can choose what to accept and what not to accept. Change your thoughts and that will change the outcome of many situations. Explain that if your thoughts are negative, they will begin to affect your perception of a situation.

Choose a stimulus such as a video clip, letter, poem or image to anchor your lesson to something tangible. Introduce the topic of the session and generate a discussion around this. Ask questions like:

  • What kinds of thoughts might this person have had?
  • How have their thoughts affected their day, choices, mood, situation?
  • Do you ever feel like this?
  • What does this teach us about our own lives?

Lesson idea: The difference between success and failure

Our current education system teaches children that their worth is in succeeding and not failing. They need to get the correct answer, pass the test and remember the right information. If they are unable to do that, they "fail". This silently communicates that there is such a thing as failure and creates a fear of failing.

There is no such thing as failure. Failure is the stepping stone to success and the only time you truly fail is when you give up. Teaching the children that the most successful people experienced many failures before they achieved will reflect real-life experiences and inspire them to see challenges or barriers are temporary rather than fixed.

Research some famous people who are relevant to the children who have failed many times before they succeeded. Ask questions like:

  • What do you think they believed about themselves/their goals.
  • What might people have told them about their dreams/goals.
  • What made them different to other people.
  • What does this teach you about your life?

Shahana Knight is director at TPC Therapy, a mental health service for children. She also sits on a foster care panel, is a school governor and a clinical play therapist. Visit and read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via

Further information

Lesson plans and examples for the lessons described above come from Shahana’s Happiness Project PHSE lessons. If you want to know more or would like to download some lesson plans, visit

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