Building Your Child's Self-Esteem

Building Your Child's Self-Esteem

Are you helping your child develop healthy self-esteem? Every experience they encounter is an opportunity to build or breakdown a child’s sense of self. From frustration with friends to feeling insecure about academics, many different factors contribute to low self-esteem. It’s clear that these negative experiences are linked to a variety of behavioral and mental health problems that can begin in childhood,  or develop in their adult lives. Positive self-esteem is important, as it influences our attitudes, relationships, behaviors, and emotions for life.

Although a child’s experiences outside the home are significant, they are not the only things that contribute to low self-esteem in children. Parenting expert Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, found that most parents focus on the “negatives” or areas that need improvement in their child’s life. His research found that parents often get stuck in the 5:1 ratio: five negative or critical statements for every one positive or encouraging statement to their children. This ratio occurs outside your awareness.  Even if that is not your intention to speak in this way, it may be what your child hears: that he/she is in constant need of improvement.

3 Ways to Help Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Help Them Identify Feelings

Before jumping to fix or assume you know the answer, wait and ask your child how they feel. Get a feelings chart out and ask them to show you or ask what you can do to help make them feel better, and wait patiently. When we allow them to process, by being present and listening, it helps their minds begin to slow down and feel calmer.

Help Them Feel Good Enough

Comments like: “Good job in English, but I bet if you would have studied more you would have made an A.” or “If you just had the study habits of your brother, then you would get better grades.” send the wrong message. While your intention may be to motivate your child to work harder and aspire toward greater achievement, comparisons rarely have this desired effect.

Children will often withdraw and feel as though they are not good enough to make you proud until they can be like others, which may never happen. When their self-esteem is compromised by feeling inadequate, their grades will often suffer and their effort and focus generally decreases. Make the basis of the conversation about what they need to improve on, rather that alluding to the success of someone else or what your child hasn’t achieved. When having this conversation, make sure to point out what makes them unique in your eyes.

Every child has a “superpower” according to psychologist Madeline Levine.  It doesn’t have to be a subject at school, rather it can be an attribute or skill.  Perhaps your daughter is the “fixer” of her peer group: others come to her with their problems, they trust her.  Try not to worry about her lack of interest in Math or English, help her figure out her strengths. “Don’t mold her into the adult you’d like her to become. Work on being that adult yourself.” Levine says.

Praise Effectively

A good rule of thumb: praise your child on their process and effort, rather than just the accomplishments or result of a situation. Many children worry that they will disappoint their parents, even when they try their best.  In order to build healthy self-esteem, help them recognize the small pieces that lead to success.

“You did a great job on those flash cards.” Prior to your child even getting a grade back, or results of a test, you are helping reinforce the positive behaviors as well as boosting their confidence on the task

 “What a creative and colorful drawing! I’m sure your teacher will like it as much as I do.” Statements like this show children that you are noticing their effort and it encourages creativity, instead of putting it entirely in their teacher’s hands.

“Great teamwork!  You guys are really communicating on the field, your passing was phenomenal!” Particularly in competitive actives, children need to be praised and encouraged at every step, no matter if they win or lose. The way they see themselves is created during trying and difficult times.

Self-esteem develops now. Allowing your child to feel safe and able to process situations with you is an essential part of developing positive self-esteem for life.