Every parent wants her child to grow up happy and content, and she knows those two things can be achieved when her child has a healthy sense of self-esteem. She does well in school, protects him from peer pressure, and, as one research notes, is fundamental to success.
Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, associate director of Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life says a child with a strong self-esteem will be able to set goals and follow them. A child who lacks it, on the other hand, may have a hard time finding out what she wants in life or what to pursue. Here are other distinctions:
Kids with low self-esteem may not want to try new things and give up easily. They may be heard saying negative things about themselves like, “I’ll never learn how to do this” or “What’s the point? Nobody cares about me anyway?” They also tend to be overly critical and easily disappointed in themselves. They tend to be pessimistic. Kids with healthy self-esteem, on the other hand, are able to see and solve problems better without belittling themselves. Instead of saying, “I’m an idiot,” they say, “I don’t understand this.” They know their strengths and weaknesses, and are able to accept them. Kids with healthy self-esteem tend to be more optimistic.
Self-esteem is more than just confidence; it is about having a healthy sense of self worth and how a person actually sees himself as worthy. As Padilla-Walker notes in the research, “A child or teenager who feels confident about who he or she is will not be as worried about what others think.”
According to Dr. Padilla-Walker in her research, self-esteem is generally lowest during early- and middle-adolescence when kids are going through puberty and the stress of transitioning from elementary to high school. It’s during these times that a parent’s help and guidance is crucial. She, developmental psychologist Dona Matthews, and gifted education specialist Joanne Foster suggest these tips on how to nurture your child’s self-esteem:
1. Let them make their own decisions. It’s a parent’s job to guide the way but children will benefit from making decisions on their own. Through it they learn that they can make good decisions and be in charge of their own lives, which builds up their self-confidence, says Dr. Padilla-Walker. Poor choices, on the other hand, are opportunities to learn and grow. Instead of shaming your child for her decisions, help her reflect on the situation and what could have been done better.
2. Don’t over praise. Your love for your child will help boost your child’s self-esteem. Telling your child you’re proud of her and giving her hugs definitely does good. But, excessive praise can backfire especially for children with low self-esteem. “In fact, hollow praise actually diminishes a person’s self-esteem. A strong sense of self is built on feeling genuinely competent in areas that matter to the individual, whether sports, painting, academics, social popularity, or something else,” writes Foster and Dr. Matthews in Psychology Today.
“If parents excessively praise children for everything they do, it may feel insincere and result in a need for external reward to be motivated,” says Dr. Padilla-Walker. She uses rewards for getting good grades as an example: If a parent gives a child a big reward (like a video game or money) for every good grade, the child is likely to value external rewards (the video game and money) more than the internal joy of achieving a goal. Hence, her motivation gets skewed to a need for material things.
3. Set high but realistic expectations. Self-esteem is best fostered in homes where expectations are high but not unrealistic, says Dr. Padilla-Walker. Too high expectations can lead a child to be overly critical of herself, which can lead to poor self-esteem. Foster confidence by getting to know your child’s strengths and weaknesses and, coupled with love and support, help her achieve her goals. 4. Find your child’s interests. Get to know your child more, and discover learning opportunities for him there. If your child is into books and reading, for example, check out activities in your local library or bookstore. If your child likes making friends and being around people, bring her to social and educational events especially for kids. “His confidence will build through experiencing activities he enjoys,” says Foster and Dr. Matthews.
5. Encourage a growth mindset. A “growth mindset,” coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, is the idea that effort leads to success and that having the right attitude can help you achieve your goals. With this in mind, encourage your child to face setbacks with a positive attitude, says Foster and Dr. Matthews. Show him to see difficulties as learning opportunities to do better and not as insurmountable obstacles. “Help him understand that everyone experiences problems during the course of learning anything that’s worth learning, and encourage him to take pride in overcoming hurdles,” they add.
Taking responsibility and pride for who you are is a sure sign of a healthy self-esteem, says KidsHealth. It’s one of the greatest gifts parents can give their children.