Nurturing children’s self-esteem is a critical part of their healthy development. Kids who have a healthy sense of self often have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures as they enter adolescence.
Parents have a key role in developing their child’s self-worth and can use these tips:
Praise their efforts, not outcomes – Praise your child not only for a job well done, but also for the effort they put into the task at hand. If your child gets a C after studying for a math test, praise the effort and perseverance, “I know it’s not the grade you were hoping for, but I’m really impressed with how hard you studied every night this week.” Foster resiliency by complementing the positive things that your child does. When kids realize that success doesn’t always come easily, but are praised for their efforts, they feel more confident to keep trying. Most important, they won’t hang their sense of self-worth on the outcome of making the team or acing the test.
Find learning opportunities in mistakes – Allow your child to make mistakes. Everyone fails occasionally, and how your child reacts to these mistakes will help determine how they view themselves. When a mistake is made, turn the negative into a positive. Help the focus be on what is learned from the experience and let your child know that mistakes and failure are a normal part of life.
Encourage interests – Help your children discover their own unique talents and qualities. A child’s sense of self-worth is more likely to deepen when adults respond to the child’s interests and efforts with genuine interest. Show that you value their individual strengths – and teach them that feeling special doesn’t mean feeling better than others. When a child experiences success in the sport or activity that interests them, acknowledge their talents by saying, “I could tell you worked really hard and didn’t give up,” which places value on the qualities they possess and is more meaningful than saying, “good job.”
Resist comparisons – Be careful to not compare a child with classmates or siblings. This can often be interpreted by a child as though they are not as valuable as the children they are compared to. Rather than comparing abilities to others, let your child know you are proud of how well their skills have developed.
Set attainable goals – Help kids find goals that give them purpose and a chance to foster their self-expression.
Make sure your child’s goals are within reach and are appropriate for their ability. Helping your child recognize their talents and how to develop them can fill them with a sense of achievement, which breeds confidence and pride. If a child lacks a sense of purpose, they may feel bored or aimless.
Acknowledge their feelings – Caregivers influence how children come to view their feelings. Help your child learn that their thoughts and emotions are important. Comments like “You’re just working yourself into a frenzy!” may make kids feel like they have no control over their feelings. Instead, try to help the child verbalize their emotions by saying, “I can see you were very angry with your brother; it was nice that you were able to talk about it instead of yelling or hitting.”
Give choices – When kids make their own age-appropriate choices, they feel more powerful and begin to develop confidence. Foster your child’s sense of ownership and give them the chance to choose how to solve the challenges in their life. Resist the urge to “make it better” and give the child a chance to independently find their own creative solution to the challenge they encounter.
Love unconditionally – Let your child know you love them even when they fail or make bad decisions. Children will pay close attention to your choice of words and tone of voice as they develop their sense of self. The family unit is the first place where children feel accepted and loved by others – and this unconditional love sets the foundation for a child building healthy connections to friends, schoolmates and others.
When a child struggles with low self-esteem, it can impact their mood (depression, anxiety, anger, hostility can be present), behavior (bullying, quitting or cheating may be prevalent) and relationships (healthy connections are replaced with distrust, avoidance). If you suspect your child has low self-esteem, consider reaching out to a child therapist for professional help.
NOTE: This information should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a mental health condition. Call 612-871-1454 to learn more about Washburn Center’s mental health services for children.