Written by: Cally Worden
Self-esteem is about feeling loved, valued and capable. It acts like protective body armour, helping us to face the challenges of the everyday world. Healthy self-esteem is just as valuable in childhood as it is for adults. Children who feel good about themselves generally have an easier time of it when dealing with the inevitable conflicts and pressures of growing up. They develop an appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses, which leads to a sense of realism and optimism. We all want our kids to feel positive about life and good about themselves, so how can we help them nurture their self-esteem?
Self-esteem is About Balance
A child who is a high achiever may derive great satisfaction from attaining good results in whatever they do. But, this alone is not enough to build a strong self-esteem. A child needs also to feel loved and cherished – they cannot learn how to love themselves if they have never been shown how. So, while positive experiences and achievements are great, without love behind them they can become empty. The child is ultimately left feeling unfulfilled.
In a similar way, a child who receives love and care in abundance will only be content to a point. Feeling loved helps to build an inner sense of security, but it really based on someone else’s effort. For a healthy self-esteem balance to be achieved, a child needs to learn to love and value themself too. And that can only come from self-achievement. Parental love paves the way – it’s up to the child to put in the effort to achieve success on their own terms. Through trial and error and from effort and persistence, a child learns that they are capable. From this, develops a confidence in their own abilities that boosts their self-esteem.
Early Patterns Make a Difference
When we see young babies, it is hard to imagine self-esteem being relevant to them. And yet, our tiny children are constantly observing us. Our own self-esteem patterns help to set the scene for theirs. If we give up on projects or tasks because they are too difficult or challenging, we are teaching our kids to do the same. If we allow life to get us down and shrug it off as ‘just the way it is‚Äô, then we are showing our kids that they have no power. And that’s not good. We are our children’s role models; we need to practice what we preach.
And it goes beyond that too. It’s vital that we allow our children space to learn from their mistakes. We need to encourage them to persevere at building that Lego tower, even if they get frustrated and can’t do it straight away. In this way, we show our kids that we love them and that they are capable – in their own right. Employing this approach in every area of life, offers our children a broad spectrum of experiences and opportunities for success.
When they revise hard for a test and achieve success that’s great. But equally important is giving them encouragement in emotional situations, such as when they experiment with making new friends – they may at first be rejected, but should be encourage to find other ways to connect. When they eventually succeed their self-esteem will have received a massive boost. And their confidence too.
Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, your child seems to crawl into their shell and their confidence takes a knock. Children have difference sensitivities, when helping your child to build their self-esteem it’s important to be aware of these. Your child may have a low tolerance for frustration, for example, leading them to give up easily. If this is the case, it’s important to find some simple challenges that help to build their confidence before attempting more complex ones.
Children low in self-esteem may seem reluctant to try new things, or to interact with others. Social situations may be especially challenging. Help them to find ways of interacting that don’t involve being the centre of attention. Help them to understand that many others in the same situation will be feeling just as nervous or uncertain – this can be a great help when starting school, for example.
Low self-esteem can lead to a sense of pessimism – kids can feel like they’ll never succeed, that they are ‘stupid’ or ‘useless’ and tend to be overly critical of themselves. They may view temporary setbacks and obstacles as permanent and insurmountable. In these cases, you can help by showing them ways to find solutions, rather than giving up. Encourage your child to ask for help when needed and accept all aspects of their ability (or lack of), this will also help to build their confidence.
Things you Can do to Help
Here are some excellent practical things you can start to do immediately to help your child’s self-esteem. Even the smallest changes can make a big difference to how your child views themselves:
- Make yourself a positive role model – lead by example, showing your child how to be positive and how to tackle challenges with optimism
- Watch your words – avoid focussing on outcomes when talking to your child, focus instead on the effort they have put in. If your child worked hard to get on a sports team but didn’t make it, be sure to praise the positive work they did in trying, instead of focusing on the ultimate negative result
- Identify your child’s irrational beliefs – be aware of how your child perceives themselves and work to redirect any inaccurate beliefs that are holding your child back. If they feel they are unattractive, help them to see that beauty comes from within; if they feel inadequate, help them to focus on things they are good at; if they believe they are hopeless at maths, help them see that this is just one of many subjects
- Show them the love – being openly affectionate and loving with your child will help them feel valued for who they are. Spontaneous hugs for no reason at all show your child that you love them full stop – not just when they are performing well
- Give feedback – be positive and honest with your child when you talk to them. Acknowledging their feelings ‘I can see you’re frustrated right now’ and also praising them, ‘but I was impressed how you talked it through instead of shouting’, will reward their positive behaviour and make them more likely to adopt it in the future
- Create constructive experiences – sometimes it can be hard for a child to find success, in these instances it can work well to artificially create situations, where positive experiences can more easily be achieved. Volunteering, for example, can make a child feel great about helping others.