The development of a healthy level of self-esteem in our children is perhaps the most important building block for their future success and happiness. Without it, their talents may not be adequately developed for fear of facing necessary challenges, taking appropriate risks, or having the confidence to stand up for what they believe in. Success in school, getting along with peers, and pursuing interests and extracurricular activities all require a positive self-concept. In fact, research shows that having a positive self-concept is more important to academic success than is a high IQ score.
A healthy level of self-esteem serves as a child’s armor against the challenges of the world. Kids who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily, enjoy life more, view experiences more realistically, and are more optimistic about the future.
In contrast, children with low self-esteem become anxious and easily frustrated in the face of challenges. Their thoughts are likely to be dominated by “I can’t…” or “I’m not…” type statements, resulting in their avoidance of necessary challenges. Children with low self-esteem tend to be more passive, withdrawn, and depressed than are children with higher levels of self-esteem.
So, you ask, what can you do to help improve your child’s self-esteem? Here are some easy-to-apply techniques:
- Say “I love you” on a regular basis. If you think you don’t have to say the words because she (for ease of reading, I will use “she” where I am actually referring to either gender) knows, you’re wrong.
- Spend time with your child. If you’re physically absent or mentally preoccupied, she has probably noticed and thinks it’s because she’s not important enough.
- Tell your child you’re happy she’s yours, and mean it when you say it. If you can’t say it and mean it, there’s probably something wrong and you should strive to find out what it is. We all have times when we have a hard time getting in touch with our positive feelings about our children. I’m not talking about these times. I’m talking about if, in general, you’re not feeling good about being your child’s parent. She is unlikely to feel good about herself if she senses that you are not connected with her.
- Praise your child not only for a job well done, but also for her effort. But, be sincere and honest…kids quickly recognize contrived or undeserved compliments.
- Take the time to show your child how to do something. Show your child how to look up a number in the phonebook, or teach your teenager how to check the oil in the car. It’s unfair to assume that she’ll know what to do in her daily life if you haven’t shown her how. Kids need models.
- Look at your child when you speak to her or when she speaks to you. This conveys, “What you’re saying is important to me, and so are you.”
- Avoid adding the big “BUT” to compliments you give your child, such as, “You did wonderfully in math and history, BUT you really need to improve in science.”
- Explain why (without belaboring the point). It takes more time to explain why, but it conveys to your child that she’s important enough to you that you’ll take the time to help her understand. This even applies to many of the simple “yes” and “no” answers we give to questions.
- When your child tells you something, ask her to elaborate. Say, “Tell me more about that,” or “What was that like?”
10. Say no when you need to say no. Kids need to know there are limits and that some things are outside of those limits.
11. When you make a mistake or disappoint your child, apologize. Say you are sorry, be specific about what you are sorry for, and give her a chance to respond.
12. Spend time alone with your child, and perhaps ask her what she would like to do.
13. Respect your child’s privacy.
14. If your child did a good job on something, say so.
15. When there is a problem or your child didn’t do a good job on something, focus on the issue, not the child. For example, “You didn’t hang up your clothes” is more constructive than “Your work ethic is horrible” or “You don’t seem to care about anything!”
16. Ask your child to go on routine errands with you just because you want to spend some time with her.
17. Give your child a hug at least every few days. Likewise, make use of a caring touch when talking with her.
18. Go in and say goodnight before your child goes to sleep. (This is easy to forget once they become teenagers).
19. Look up and smile when your child comes into the room.
20. Ask your child to tell you about the book she’s reading or a movie she recently saw. Look at her and listen attentively.
21. Don’t rescue your child from difficult situations. Although you should be available if she needs help, allow her to work through her own problems. This helps a child to build self-confidence.
22. Show respect for your child by giving her choices when appropriate and then respecting her decisions. For example, when eating out at a nice restaurant, respect your child’s decision to order a grilled cheese sandwich or PBJ.
23. Don’t call your child a name or label her negatively.
24. Don’t talk about your child when she is within listening distance.
25. Don’t compare your child with siblings or peers. Try to focus on the countless assets your child has, not on what she does not have.
26. Identify and redirect your child’s inaccurate beliefs. Children have a tendency to establish global opinions about themselves based on single experiences. Help them avoid this common pitfall by pointing out how one-time experiences do not foretell a never ending pattern.
27. Making sure not to laugh at your child, use humor to help ease the pain of a disappointment. When appropriate, demonstrate the lighter side of being able to laugh at oneself.
28. Build in success. In situations where failure is more of a possibility, break the task down into a series of more manageable steps.
I once read that a child’s self-esteem can be thought of as a collection of pictures they carry around with them that reflects how they feel about themselves. As the child tries, fails, tries again, fails again, and then finally succeeds, he or she is creating snapshots about his or her own capabilities. Likewise, the more pictures children have in their albums that show how important they are, and how much they are loved and appreciated, the better will be their level of self-esteem. Today, strive to set-up a great picture opportunity for your child.