As parents, one of our long-term goals should be to foster a sense of self-worth in our kids. This sense of self-worth is essential for helping kids reach beyond their comfort zone, try new things, and build healthy relationships.
However, with school, extra-curricular activities, and the tendency for children to live online at home, parents have less influence over a child’s sense of self-worth. Parents need to understand how to bolster their child’s defenses against online bullying and the inevitable disappointments of young life—doing poorly on a test, not making the team, or getting rejected by a crush.
There are several ways you can teach your child to be resilient, have strong self-esteem, and help them cope with the inevitable challenges and upsets life will throw their way. This article will provide tips on fostering a strong sense of self-worth in your children.
How Do You Know If Your Child’s Self-Esteem is Suffering?
When a child has poor self-esteem, there will be noticeable patterns in their behavior. If you notice your child acting more withdrawn, depressed, or “not like themselves,” it could signify that their self-esteem is suffering.
Here are some behavioral signs that your child might have poor self-esteem:
- They are constantly criticizing their own actions, behavior, or performance
- They are always comparing their actions, behavior, or performance to other kids unfavorably
- They focus on pleasing others at the detriment of their own well-being
- They lack the confidence to try new things and are afraid of failure
- They focus on failure and not on success
- They exhibit signs of perfectionism
- They show fear of rejection
Children with low self-esteem lack self-assurance and often won’t try for fear of failure, rejection, or disappointing their parents, teachers, coaches, or peers. Children with low self-esteem can fall prey to bullies because they don’t stand up for themselves or don’t feel like they are worthy enough to resist.
Self-Esteem is Not a Zero-Sum Game
Parents must remember that developing a child’s self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. Self-esteem isn’t a have or a have-not kind of phenomenon. Self-esteem takes time and effort to foster in a child, but it is certainly incrementally achievable.
As a child develops a stronger sense of self-worth, they will also develop resiliency to misplaced criticism and appreciation for healthy criticism. They will also develop an immunity to bullying and the fear of failure. The snowball effect is very much in play when it comes to building self-esteem.
So, what are some ways parents can help improve their kid’s self-esteem?
Tips For Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Remember, a bunch of positive actions add up over time to one self-confident child. There will be setbacks and challenges regarding your child’s self-esteem—everyone makes mistakes or misses the mark at some point.
The following tips will help your child build strong self-esteem.
Use Praise Wisely
Too much praise or empty praise loses its effectiveness. If your child made a mistake, praising the outcome regardless renders the praise meaningless. For example,
“You failed the test? What does the teacher know? You did great!”
This praise is empty. The child still has to deal with the repercussions of failing the test. Instead of praising the outcome here—you did great!—praise the effort your child put into preparing.
Try saying, “It doesn’t feel good to fail. I saw you studying hard, and I’m really proud of the effort you put in.”
This is not empty praise. It acknowledges the effort and encourages them to try again.
Even when your child does well, you should praise the effort and not the results.
“Of course my child got an A. He’s brilliant!” vs. “Look what happens when you put in hard work!”
Use Criticism Wisely
Negative criticism breaks children’s self-esteem down. Instead of focusing on the mistakes or the negatives, show them what they need to do to improve. Attacking your child for being lazy or stupid when they don’t understand a task or assignment will only work to demotivate them and break down their self-esteem.
Criticism should be geared towards improvement. If you asked your child to clean their room and they gave an honest effort but missed the mark, you should acknowledge that and show them how to organize and put their things away, rather than scolding them for being lazy.
Always Encourage Your Child To Try New Things
Parents should always encourage their children to try new things, whether as simple as trying a new food or as complicated as riding the elephant at the zoo. When children prove to themselves that they can handle big or seemingly scary tasks, they build self-esteem.
Encouraging them to try a spicy hot wing might seem far away from having them try a challenging extra-curricular summer course, but you are setting the groundwork for a curious and hungry mind.
Remember the snowball effect.
Do New Things With Them, Not For Them
You should also try to encourage independent thinking and self-reliance. Instead of doing things for them, do things with them so that they learn it’s possible to handle challenging tasks independently.
Part of possessing strong self-esteem is believing that you can handle new or challenging situations. By engendering a sense of self-reliance in your child, you show them that they can handle new and difficult tasks.
Encourage Them To Help Others
Once they feel confident in handling a new skill, task, or assignment, have them show a peer or sibling how to tackle the same challenge. Not only is teaching a great way to reinforce what you’ve learned, but it helps your child model a leadership role, which improves self-esteem.
Work on Your Own Self-Esteem as a Role Model
Finally, you should strive to be a positive, self-assured role model for your child. As parents, we sometimes struggle to practice what we preach. However, our positive messaging and encouragement are much more effective if we embody the positivity and courage we want to see in our children.
All of these tips apply to you as a person who deserves strong self-esteem, too.
Jenn Walker is a freelance writer, mother, and avid beachgoer living unapologetically in recovery. She writes for Maryville Treatment Centers, which offers resources for families touched by addiction and medication-assisted treatment in New Jersey.