Self-esteem is what makes children feel capable in their abilities. It’s also key to trying new things, making friends, and even facing challenges. Children with healthy self-esteem grow into adults who like themselves and enjoy their own company.
As parents, we can begin instilling this important quality early on. Research from the University of Washington states that a child’s self-esteem is largely developed by the age of five. It begins when an infant gets positive attention and loving care and continues through each new stage of development.
Curious about how to foster this important skill? Here are 6 effective ways to promote your child’s self-esteem:
Allowing children to make their own choices is a self-esteem booster. Give them a say in things that matter, and they will feel powerful and understood.
It’s also important to set limits. Having too many choices or ones that are not developmentally appropriate can feel overwhelming, resulting in meltdowns, and frustration.
So how do we find the sweet spot?
With young children, begin by offering two options (“Would you like to wear the black shoes or the purple ones?” or “Would you like to brush your teeth now or in 5 minutes?”).
By offering both choices and responsibilities, children learn they are valuable and competent members of the family.
Studies show that unkind and bullying behaviors begin in preschool and may worsen with age. From early on, children can learn to advocate and stand up for themselves.
Assertiveness skills can be taught in many ways. Parents can begin by talking about the qualities of a positive friendship. Asking, “Would a good friend do this?” or “How would a good friend handle this?” may be helpful. Practice role-playing with children to help them handle problems and don’t immediately interfere in minor disputes with their peers.
As parents, there is also power in modeling confident and assertive behavior with others. Children learn by watching us, and notice when and how we assert ourselves in tricky situations.
When children strive for perfection, they fear taking risks, making mistakes or disappointing themselves and others. This way of thinking, known as a ‘fixed mindset,’ is associated with low self-esteem and even depression.
There are two ways of seeing challenges–one is positive and the other, more negative. With a ‘fixed mindset,’ we may feel the need to be perfect and even give up when things are hard. On the other hand, a ‘growth mindset’ means we know that difficulties are opportunities to learn and get better.
As a parent, discuss times when something was difficult for you and you were able to overcome it through persistence and effort. Share moments when you are excited to face challenges since you know they will help you change for the better.
We know to avoid harsh criticism when speaking to children. So it seems like any praise must be positive. But did you know there’s a “right way” to give praise?
When children are over-praised, repeatedly told they are “perfect” or “the best” at things, it can actually do more harm than good. Children may put forth less effort, or stop attempting to improve at all.
Instead, praise children genuinely. They know when adults are being sincere. Share specific feedback rather than sweeping, general statements. For example, tell your child you “see how hard she worked at mastering that dance move” rather than calling her “the best dancer in the world.”
Lasting self-esteem is the result of effort, persistence and hard-earned progress and not empty (though well-intentioned) words.
Just like making decisions, participating in household chores builds a child’s competency. When children are entrusted with the tasks that keep their home running, their self-esteem (and sense of responsibility) grows.
Assign age-appropriate chores (setting the table, feeding a pet, or folding laundry) to further increase feelings of competency. Fun activities like making pancakes together (and letting them measure) are other options. Trust your child to do the dishes if there weren’t too many,
or let them make the bed in the morning.
You can also make the kitchen more kid-friendly by adding different printables for kids, including words of encouragement and fun visuals to keep it interesting.
Children of parents who recognize and openly discuss their feelings have greater self-esteem. There are many simple ways to validate emotions, thereby increasing your child’s feelings of self-worth and acceptance.
Start by acknowledging any feelings your child shares. If their strong feelings seem to be over minor or easily resolved issues, recognize that the issue feels big to him. Minimizing or dismissing feelings tells children their feelings don’t make sense, which greatly undermines self-esteem.
Listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings without judgment or blame. Reflect their words back (“I hear you saying you are angry at your brother for taking your toy”) before moving into problem-solving or making suggestions.
It is only when children feel validated that they can have a healthy sense of themselves.
Self-esteem encompasses a child’s sense of who they are and confidence in their abilities. By allowing our children to make choices and contributions at home, validating their emotions and praising them sincerely, we lay the foundation for a lifetime of positive self-worth.