Building Healthy Self-Esteem in Children

by WiseFool

Helping your children build a positive view of themselves is one of the best things you can do for them.

The most contented people, of any and all age ranges, tend to have one thing in common: healthy self-esteem. And it follows that helping your children build a positive view of themselves is one of the best gifts you can offer them.

As much as we want to protect our kids from disappointment and unpleasantness, most parents realize that, in reality, this is impossible.

However, by arming your child with a healthy and robust dose of self-esteem, you are providing him or her with everything they need to survive those stumbling blocks; the difficulties and failures that life will inevitably have in store.

Children and adults with good self-esteem are able to make friends more easily; are generally happier and more optimistic; find it easier to resolve problems and conflicts; suffer less anxiety; and subsequently are more successful than their less self-assured counterparts.

There can be no doubt that self-esteem is good for children and will continue to prove helpful well into adulthood. The questions is how to instill a positive sense of self in young children.

Why it’s Important to Build a Positive Sense of Self in Youngsters

Our perception of self begins earlyAsk yourself these questions: are you happy with who and what you’ve become? Are you confident in your capabilities? Do you feel loved for who you are (exactly the way you are)? Do you live life without being plagued by feelings of inferiority?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of those questions, then you have a very high level of self-esteem. If you answered ‘yes’ to all of those questions, you’re also in the minority.

Very few of us feel totally secure in ourselves. And that’s actually pretty normal. It’s worth pointing out that self-esteem will fluctuate with the various stages and complications of life. For example, following a divorce, it’s natural for self-esteem to take a little battering. If you’ve recently received a promotion, on the other hand, then you’re likely to experience a boost in self-confidence. These highs and lows are to be expected. In fact, any one who doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur should occasionally experience a little dent to their sense of self.

However, a healthy self-esteem will bounce back from these low points and, hopefully, aid in the speedy recovery from life’s pitfalls. Meanwhile, someone lacking in self-esteem will suffer greatly from setbacks, no matter how small they may be.

So, because life starts to throw disappointments at us from a very young age, it makes sense to start building that protective armor of self-esteem early, too. But there is another reason for focusing on a child’s self-confidence: it can be difficult to build self-esteem as an adult. That’s not to suggest that we don’t gain confidence and a sense of self-worth as we age, because we do. But those niggling voices, ‘I’m an idiot’, ‘am I really good enough for him/her?’, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘everybody else is better than me’, become harder to silence once they’ve become ingrained.

How Love and Self-Esteem Work Together

Before we move onto how a child’s self-esteem can be nurtured, it’s worth remembering one more important thing about a sense of self-worth: it’s inextricably linked to our knowledge (or lack thereof) that we are loved.

We may assume that confidence is built from the overcoming of obstacles, and achievement after persistence and struggle.

Of course, these are important facets to building healthy self-esteem. However, parents and/or guardians must also be aware that this is not all that’s required.

For instance, a kid who is capable and a high achiever, can still find himself with a complete lack of self-confidence, because he doesn’t feel loved.

He may know that he’s able to score well on tests when he studies hard; he might have put a lot of practice into an instrument and realize he’s getting good at it - but perhaps he’s thinking, ‘none of it matters, because nobody cares about me anyway’.

Love and support are important ingredients in building self-worth, but what else is needed?

How to Improve Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Tip 1: Give Praise for Effort

Keep in mind it’s not always the ‘result’ that matters, but whether children apply themselves to something. Tell her she practised hard for that spelling test and if she keeps working, she’ll be able to master the words she’s still struggling with. Vice versa, of course, if a child has failed to achieve something because there’s been a lack of effort, explain what you think she could have done differently. For example, ‘don’t leave studying for your spelling test until the night before’.

Tip 2: Don't Lie

It might be tempting to spare your kid’s feelings, but it’s important to be realistic. If your kid wants to sing, but can’t carry a tune, then by all means encourage the enthusiasm, and perhaps steer their love of music in a different direction. But don’t tell him or her that Carnegie Hall awaits. Never be cruel about your child’s lack of ability in a given area (and you can easily be cruel without meaning to be, so be wary of the words you use), but don’t overinflate a perception of his or her talents.

Tip 3: Disappointment is Crucial

It’s part of life and one that children shouldn’t be shielded from. In order to learn how to handle disappointment, children have to face it head-on and overcome it. Teach them that failure is nothing to be scared of and that it can be used as a stepping stone for bigger and better things. It’s also a good opportunity to remind a child that he or she is loved no matter what.

Tip 4: Watch Your Own Behavior

Are you being a good role model? Do you become frustrated when things don’t go your way? Do your kids hear you saying derogatory things about yourself? Bear in mind, children learn fastest through mimicking what they see and hear. Not only should you try to keep a positive attitude regarding yourself, but it’s also a great idea to keep a positive attitude towards others, too. Any type of negativity that your child overhears may sink into their sponge-like brain more deeply than you imagine.

Tip 5: Encourage Interests and Give Constructive Feedback

Your child will probably want to try numerous activities; embrace as many as possible and allow him or her the freedom to find an area in which they really shine.

Tip 6: Be Vigilant of Low Self-Worth

As mentioned above, we all experience low self-esteem from time to time, but it’s vital not to let your child wallow and to remind him that he’s loved. If you ever hear any negative talk, like ‘I’m too dumb to get this math homework’, correct that misperception.

Tip 7: Give Affection Often and Spontaneously

It can be easy, especially in busy modern life, to fall into the trap of only lavishing your child with affection, praise and time if they’ve done something that’s caught your attention.

This gives them the impression that they’re only worthy of your love if they’ve achieved something. So try to give affection for no reason in particular; this will help remind your child that he or she is always loved.

Tip 8: Foster Cooperation Rather Than Competition

While there’s nothing wrong with healthy competition, it’s important for kids not to get too bogged down with the notion of ‘winning and losing’.

So try to involve your children in activities that require teamwork and cooperation. Volunteer work and activities that benefit the community are good examples.

Tip 9: Create a Safe, Calm, Loving Home Environment

Children from stable families are much more likely to have a solid sense of self-worth. Wherever possible, ensure your child is offered the best possible environment in which to flourish.

Self-Esteem Can be a Balancing Act

People with healthy self-esteem are much happier than people without itOn one hand, you want to boost a child’s self-confidence and ensure that he or she can cope in that big, wide world. On the other hand, you don’t want to create a person who has an exaggerated sense of importance. This, in part, is why it’s good for children to experience disappointment, but it’s also a good idea for parents to encourage kids to treat everybody with the same respect that they would like to receive. And, in fact, the act of treating others with courtesy and kindness will also do wonders for a child’s own self-esteem.

Remember, self-worth is crucial for a happy, successful and productive life. Without it, both adults and youngsters alike can suffer from anxiety disorders and depression.

Low self-esteem is also likely to lead adolescents to be more susceptible to peer pressure. Children who lack self-worth, are likely to feel unloved, and will therefore avoid communicating with their parents. Adults without solid self-confidence might seek unhealthy ‘coping mechanisms’, such as cigarettes, alcohol, drugs (prescription or recreational).

Of course, this is not to suggest that everybody with low self-esteem is destined for a dark and destructive path, but it can happen. And in almost all cases, people who lack self-worth and confidence are unhappy…and they’re likely to repeat the same mistakes with their own children.

So, why don’t you be the one to break the pattern?

Updated: 06/18/2013, WiseFool
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WiseFool on 11/28/2013

Thanks, Mira. Glad you enjoyed reading. The sense of 'competition' or comparing ourselves to others in any way; she's got the latest phone, he's fitter, or whatever, is just so toxic in my opinion.

I think, as I become older and start to feel more comfortable in my skin, I realize how lacking in confidence I was as a youngster (especially teenager). Part of that is just growing up; it's always going to be the way. But, hopefully, a healthy sense of self helps children make the 'right' choices, rather than simply following the crowd. Although I don't have any children yet, that's certainly something I would want to impress upon my hypothetical young 'uns.

Mira on 11/28/2013

What a great article! Wonderful thoughts :)
I loved the point about encouraging cooperation as well as competition... while also not teaching the kid that he shouldn't measure his life and achievements against others'.

WiseFool on 06/19/2013

Hello, Mike. I think you're right, there's much to be learned from both winning and losing. It's also good to engage kids in activities that aren't about either. We all, even as adults, can walk around with a perception of being in permanent competition. What we should really be focusing on is being the best person we can be, without trying to measure ourselves against others. That said, defeat and the overcoming of it can be very empowering as you rightly point out.

teddletonmr on 06/19/2013

A good Healthy esteem and the golden rule, thanks for the tip. As for the winning and losing thing, isn’t it better to focus on the positive aspects of both? A kid can do his or her best and lose the ball game, while on the other hand learn something new about the game, and work on what they learn empowering them do better next time.
Make it a great day, Mike

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