Self-esteem and positive self-image are characteristics that children can develop through both positive and negative life experiences. A child with a positive self-image can fail but still believe that they are lovable, and that they have the potential to succeed if they keep trying. On the other hand, a child with a negative self-image may be self-critical and believe that they will never be successful. Parents play an important role in enhancing a child’s ability to bounce back after a setback and ensure that they know they are valuable and loved unconditionally. Here are 10 ways parents can enhance a child’s self-esteem:
Understand your child’s strengths and limitations. It is important to push children to challenge themselves and try new things, but we shouldn’t expect them to succeed in everything they try. Instead, we should expect them to fail a lot while they discover their strengths. By praising and acknowledging a child’s effort instead of the product of it, we can help children learn that success is not the most important goal.
If a child makes a mistake, it is tempting to try to make them feel better. However, if we don’t first acknowledge the emotions they are experiencing, they may feel alone and invalidated. You can’t undo feelings of sadness or frustration when something doesn’t go as planned, but you can provide comfort. You can also express understanding about how bad it feels when things don’t go your way.
Failing stinks. We’ve all failed at something and we know how bad it can feel. We can’t prevent failure but we can teach children to manage feelings of frustration or sadness and learn to comfort themselves. Some useful techniques that parents can practice with their children are deep breathing, self-expression (e.g. drawing, journaling, music), and mindfulness.
Ensure that your praise is authentic, meaningful, and concrete. When parents provide exaggerated praise to kids with low self-esteem, it can result in even lower self-esteem. When praise is exaggerated (e.g. your drawing is soooo amazing! I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!) it can set unattainable standards. And if the task you’re praising them for is simple for them, the child may think that you don’t believe they can succeed at more difficult tasks.
There is a positive correlation between authoritative parenting and children’s self-esteem. Authoritative parents are warm, responsive to their child’s emotional needs, set clear limits on behavior, and enforce boundaries. Kids need a balance of nurture, structure, and clear boundaries in order to flourish.
If there are multiple guardians involved in parenting, involve everyone in the emotional aspects of parenting. Women often take the lead in the nurturing and comforting aspects of parenting and men may take a more secondary role. However, when both guardians are attuned to the emotional needs of the child they will receive a consistent message that they are worthy of love and concern.
Your child is constantly watching how you handle yourself and manage your interactions in the world. If you are self-deprecating, your child may begin to think about themselves in that way. Children will notice how you respond to your successes and your failures. You can fail and feel sad or disappointed, then comfort yourself and show that you still feel like a worthwhile and lovable person.
When talking about the past with a child, it is important to talk about the event and the emotions associated with that event. Many parents focus on the details of an event but may forget to ask how the child felt. Increasing awareness of emotions has been shown to lead to higher self-esteem in children.
We want to encourage kids to accept failure and try again without pushing them past their limit. When a child is ready to practice a skill again after a setback, they will need you to help them break the skill into manageable tasks and tackle them one at a time. Kids will then be able to experience small successes as they master a skill, which will foster confidence in their abilities.
The most important way a parent can enhance a child’s self-esteem is to communicate that they are loved and valued unconditionally. By dedicating time to nurturing a child and showing interest in things they value, they will learn that they are loved and accepted for who they are and that they should love and accept themselves as well.
Self-esteem is an essential quality for making friends, succeeding in school, and becoming a healthy adult. Parents play an important role in helping a child develop self-esteem by providing empathy, praising effort, encouraging awareness of emotions, and providing unconditional love and support.
Written by: Melanie Phillips, LCSW