Raising kids is such a huge responsibility. Not only are we responsible for keeping them from sticking things in outlets when all they want to do is stick something in an outlet, but we set the foundation for their emotional well-being. Wow! With that in mind, we need to consider how we can help our children build their self-esteem.
Our kiddos rely on us for so much, and it’s our job to give them the tools needed to flourish. So much of that starts with a healthy mindset! Here are eight ways we can help facilitate healthy and positive self-esteem in our kids.
8 Ways to Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
1. Be present and show interest in them.
I’m starting with some real talk, so please know this comes from a mom that struggles as much as anyone else. It can be tough to slow down in this hectic day and age that pulls us in a million directions. But research shows that our kids are suffering from our disconnect.1
A big factor in raising healthy-minded children is feeling significant to their parents. Not in an egocentric, the-world-revolves-around-me type of way. But being secure in the fact that they will ALWAYS have someone in their corner cheering them on. How do we give them this security? Through genuine connection. Not all the doing and going, but showing a genuine interest in who they are and putting that above other distractions.
A considerable part of this is that our kids need device-free quality time with us. If we are half in the moment and half on social media, we aren’t really in the moment after all, are we? Give your kids the connection they crave by putting away the screens and letting them know how valuable they are!
2. Give them household responsibilities.
Chores, small jobs, doing for themselves–just what every kid wants, right? It may seem like the best way to create a happy life for your kids is by giving them every enjoyable opportunity they could ever dream of, but it’s simply not so. In reality, having set responsibilities for kids can have a significant impact on their self-esteem!
Think about anything you’ve worked on in the past. Doesn’t it feel good to see it completed? Or to see people enjoying your hard work? Being a part of something gives a sense of accomplishment and belonging, which is vital for self-esteem. The same feelings happen when children have some household responsibilities. When you give your kids a job to do, you send the message that they’re capable of completing it, and you TRUST them to do so. They’ll feel valued and significant because they contribute to the overall wellness of the home.
3. Rethink HOW you praise them.
Toeing the line between building self-esteem and creating little narcissists can seem tricky at first. We want them to know how proud we are of them, but not give the idea that they’re infallible and better than others. A lot of this has to do with HOW we choose to praise or compliment them.2
The first part of this is to avoid applauding them over every little thing. The reason for this is 1) they’ll grow accustomed to being highly praised for everything they do and thus think everything they do is highly praiseworthy, and 2) they’ll feel the need for that praise rather than being content in knowing for themselves that they did a good job. High self-esteem comes from being confident in themselves without needing an outside source of recognition.
I saw this exact thing play out with my daughter before I took steps to change my behavior. When I was initially teaching her how to count, I would clap and cheer every time she said the correct numbers. Then I started to notice that every time she said a number, she would stop and look at me, waiting for either a smile and applause or a correction.
Even once she was very well-practiced at counting, she still second-guessed herself until she saw my approval! This made me realize the impact we have on their ability to trust their own sense of accomplishment. If they come to expect a huge response, then naturally, they will feel like they did something wrong if they don’t get that response, even if they would otherwise know they were right!
4. How we praise our kids matters.
The other thing to keep in mind is the way we are praising our kids. There is a vast difference between “you are so smart” and “you are a hard worker.” When we are always telling our kids how smart they are, it can create a feeling that they don’t need to work very hard because they’re just “so smart.” Not only will it give them a false sense of inherent skill/success, but it will also make them hesitate to try something new to avoid being seen as “stupid.”
Kids also greatly benefit from compliments that are specific and hone in on their efforts, rather than the outcome. Compliments on their focus, hard work, effort, progress, and learning from mistakes all mean so much more than merely saying, “you’re the best.”
5. Let them take risks and even fail.
Oof, I know that’s a hard one! It can be challenging to watch your child struggle and not jump in to show them the “right” or “easier” way. However, allowing our kids to work through something on their own is excellent for their overall self-esteem.
When we are continually trying to intervene, the message being sent is that they aren’t capable of figuring it out. Granted, there are plenty of times we DO need to show them how to do something since we are their first teachers in life. But if they’re trying to figure something out, give them a chance to work on it themselves.
The way this helps their self-esteem is twofold. When they finally can succeed at something, the sense of pride from having done it themselves is outstanding. After all, kids (especially younger ones) do learn best through play. The other way it helps them is to learn to fail without feeling like a failure.
Kids that aren’t allowed to fail don’t learn how to give themselves grace and push on. They might be hard on themselves and feel disappointed in their failures, even though failure is normal and expected. At home, they can learn to work through it and have you give them healthy ways to deal with it.
6. Give them some choices to make.
Allowing kids to make some choices is a great way to boost confidence and give them a sense of autonomy. Now, this isn’t to say you should let your toddler call all the shots. When children are really young, it’s better to reduce the number of decisions they make since it can be overwhelming for them.
Once they start getting into the preschool years and up, slowly increase the number of choices they make. This is similar to giving them responsibilities around the house. It sends the signal that they’re competent and trusted to have more and more say in their own life.
Start with smaller choices, like what they will wear that day or which of two options they want for a snack. As they get older, you’ll see their ability to make smart decisions will improve, and they can be trusted with more significant things. Decision making is a skill that needs to be honed, so give them the space to work on that confidence!
7. Work on goal setting and achieving.
As your kids get older and have those bigger decisions to make, it’s time to start looking at the big picture. Work together to find some goals they want to achieve, and then lay out some plans for achieving them. The important thing here is to set goals that matter to THEM, not just those important to you.
The learning process along the way helps them become more confident and resilient. Going back to number four, allowing them to fail at some of these goals is beneficial. It will teach them that goals are important, and you have to put in the effort to meet them. When they do reach that goal they worked for, it will be an incredible self-esteem booster!
8. Model positive self-esteem in yourself.
Last but not least, modeling this positive behavior in ourselves is vital to raising healthy-minded children. The phrase “children are sponges” couldn’t be more accurate here. They are watching how you handle yourself every day.
As a woman living with a postpartum body, I struggle with what I see in the mirror at times. As a mother who considers everyone else “doing it better,” I have questioned how good of a mother I am. Having consistently positive self-esteem is HARD. But our children are watching. If anything, we need to prioritize our own mental health that much more so that they hopefully won’t have the same struggles growing up.
When our kids hear us talking negatively about our own body, abilities, personality, etc., it causes them to question those things about themselves as well. They’ll come into contact with enough people who put those negative thoughts in their heads as it is. So we need to try to be a positive role model for them to learn from.
Raising our kids to have a healthy and positive mindset can be so challenging. It may seem like our best efforts and intentions aren’t resonating the way we hoped, and it’s hard to see our kids struggle. However, these tips are great ways to boost our children’s self-esteem and can create a happier home for everyone!