Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

There are a lot of discussions these days about the importance of building self-esteem, especially when it comes to children and adolescents. Experts in parenting and human psychology recognize how crucial healthy self-esteem is to future success.

But building your child's self-esteem can be a challenge for parents. So, how do we create and instill healthy self-esteem in kids, and how do parents encourage their children to be confident, independent, and ready to face challenges?

What Does it Mean to Have Good Self-Esteem?

Many factors affect children's self-esteem. It's important to remember that even if you do a great job building your child's self-esteem, they will still face setbacks and challenges as they navigate through life. The way they approach these challenges will truly help reinforce and build their confidence and belief in themselves.

There are also many reasons children, particularly adolescents, might struggle with low self-esteem. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and ASD can all play a role in a child’s self-esteem. Any disorder that makes it difficult to regulate their mood and impacts their school functioning can lower their self-esteem.

But even beyond facing a mental health disorder, kids’ self-esteem is influenced by many other factors in their lives. We can’t ignore the impact of social media on our tweens, teens, and young adults. It provides a fantasy world to compare themselves to. Social media is a place where kids are constantly exposed to curated images of others living their “best lives.” The comparison can make kids feel like they don't measure up and aren't good enough.

In addition to the challenges of social media, many kids today are overscheduled. There's no time for leisure, play, and imagination, which is essential for growth. Kids need time to try new things, different roles, and react to various new challenges to help them discover who they are.

There are other several factors that affect children’s self-esteem, including:

  • How much a child feels wanted, appreciated, and loved.
  • How a child sees themselves (often related to what parents and those closest to them say).
  • A sense of achievement.
  • How a child relates to others.

Positive self-esteem isn’t just “feeling good about oneself.” It’s about how a child sees themselves and their capacity within the world, how they feel secure and safe, and how they connect and communicate with others in their lives—peers, teachers, friends, and family.

Another crucial aspect of self-esteem is self-efficacy or the belief in one's capacity to face a given situation. Self-efficacy is related to resilience—how do children recover from setbacks and deal with disappointments and challenges?

The number one way for parents to help children build resilience is to allow children to fall down sometimes. It may sound counter-intuitive that building a child's self-esteem means letting them face failure. As parents, we may want to rescue and protect our children from facing difficulties. It's hard for parents emotionally and hard on a societal level as well.

It's important to remember that most little situations aren't going to matter in the grand scheme of things. Learning to cope with challenges builds resilience and problem-solving skills. Resilient kids have some level of accountability, know how to communicate effectively, and have parents and adults that model it for them. Many parents might not have been raised that way, so it’s challenging to learn to have open accountability and awareness of their actions.

How Parents Can Help in Building Their Child’s Self-Esteem

So other than allowing children room to navigate, make decisions, and, yes, even make mistakes, how can parents help build their child's self-esteem?

There are many positive ways to boost a child's confidence and sense of self-worth; some of the simplest and best ways are:

  • Appreciating your child.
  • Telling your child that you love him.
  • Spending time with your child.
  • Allowing and encouraging your child to make choices.
  • Fostering independence in your child.
  • Giving genuine importance to your child’s opinion and listening.
  • Taking the time to explain reasons.
  • Feeding your child with positive encouragement and positive affirmations.
  • Encouraging your child to try new and challenging activities.

Appreciating and affirming kids is critical to helping them build a strong sense of self-worth. A child's self-esteem suffers greatly when they aren't appreciated. What's more, kids know when we're being sincere and honest with them. When we're spending time with them, but we're dismissive or annoyed, our kids pick up on it. It's important that we devote time to genuinely enjoying our kids.

It's also crucial to show appreciation by thanking children and acknowledging positives. Tell your child that you love them frequently, even if you don't feel comfortable expressing it or think they already know. Thanking a child when they do something positive is a wonderful reward—children love to please, and they feel good when they know they've done something notable.

Encouragement is the fuel behind self-esteem. When we encourage a child, we help build a child’s self-esteem by allowing them to discover the path to success. Encourage decision-making, which leads to building confidence and independence.

Some people worry that offering external praise creates kids that are addicted to pleasing others. They need the praise to feel good. Encouragement is a little different and aligns more with what kids need. Encouragement empowers kids to create positive outcomes on their own.

Parents can also build a child’s self-esteem with mutual respect. Treating children seriously and with respect helps them realize that they’re valued as human beings. When we explain a situation and treat a child like an intelligent individual able to understand and reach conclusions, we empower them to rise to the occasion. We all want to be treated with respect, and kids are no different. When kids are belittled, patronized, or teased and put down, they start to suffer from a lack of healthy self-confidence. They question themselves and feel insecure. Mutual respect fosters trust.

To encourage a child to take risks and get out of their comfort zone, explore their feelings about the situation. Everyone feels fear and anxiety when they take on a new task. Helping kids understand that some risk avoidance is due to these fears and anxiety can help them overcome these feelings. As they engage in more challenging activities outside their comfort zone, they'll build up a higher tolerance for discomfort, and their bravery will increase with each success.

Helping a Child Build Self-Esteem When They Struggle

When a child has a diagnosis like ADHD, depression, or ASD, they may struggle with self-esteem. There’s always a tension between helping a child understand their mental health issues impact and encouraging them and accepting their uniqueness.

When a child falls, they shouldn't be made to feel like a failure. There's a difference between failing at an endeavor and BEING a failure. It's vital to help children view their mistakes and missteps not as failures but rather as temporary setbacks on the road to success. We should never tell children that they've let us down or can't succeed. Instead, we can act as a mentor and a model, helping children believe in their ability to succeed no matter how long it takes.

But what about when a child acts out or does something that needs to be discouraged? How can we offer discipline without damaging a child’s self-esteem? Rather than punishment, we need to think of discipline as administering consequences. It should come from a place of calmness.

As parents or caretakers, we can say, "I'm frustrated, and there will be consequences. I need to take a second." Rather than losing it and doing something we regret later, we can take a few moments to collect ourselves—physical forms of punishment like hitting or spanking cause more harm than good. Kids are more likely to understand and accept the consequences of their actions when they are explained and delivered calmly.

Spending time with our children is crucial to their self-esteem and confidence. For all kids, their relationship with their parents or caretaker is their foundation. Their foundational family relationships need to be solid, so they feel safe exploring the world—it offers them a place of unconditional love to fall back on.

As parents, we should offer non-judgmental support to help our children feel encouraged. Give them a place where they can discuss their thoughts and feelings without judgment. They're trying to navigate the world, and that requires exploration. Kids come to their own conclusions, often in the way we want them to. If they fear that we're judging them, they might keep things to themselves instead and make impulsive decisions.

If you feel like your parenting reserves are exhausted, or you've hit a wall in terms of understanding what's going on with your child, remember that you aren't alone. At Goodman Psychologist Associates, we offer support for children, families, and parents. If you need assistance getting past a roadblock and reconnecting with your child, reach out today. We’re here to help. 

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