Raising kids is a huge responsibility. We are responsible for keeping them physically safe — ensuring they eat their fruits and veggies daily and keeping them from sticking things into electrical outlets — and setting the foundation for their emotional well-being. No pressure, parents! With that in mind, we must consider how to help our children build their self-esteem.
What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is feeling worthwhile, liking yourself, knowing you can achieve things, and believing you will do well.3 High self-esteem gives us confidence; we are more willing to try new things or persist when things get tough, and we feel prepared for challenges rather than try to avoid them.3 This builds our resilience, as we can better bounce back from difficulties. This is a massive part of a child’s development.
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 to 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 Unconditional Love
I’m starting with some real talk, so please know this comes from a mom who struggles as much as anyone else. It can be tough to slow down in this hectic day and age that pulls us in many directions. But research shows our kids are suffering from our disconnect.1
A significant factor in raising healthy-minded children is ensuring they feel important to their parents. Not in a selfish, the-world-revolves-around-me type of way.4 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 and unconditional love. Not all the doing and going, but showing a genuine interest in who they are and putting that above other distractions.1
Much of this is that our kids need device-free, quality time with us.1 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 things for themselves — just what every kid wants, right? It may seem like the best way to create a happy life for your kids is to give them every enjoyable opportunity they could dream of, but it’s simply not so. In reality, having set responsibilities for kids can significantly impact their self-esteem.5
Think about anything you’ve worked on in the past. Didn’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.5 The same feelings happen when children have some household responsibilities. When you give your kids a job, you send the message that they can complete it and that you trust them to do so. They’ll feel valued and significant because they can contribute to the overall wellness of their home.
3. Rethink When You Praise Them
Toeing the line between building self-esteem and creating little narcissists can seem tricky. 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 WHEN we choose to compliment or praise them.2
The first part 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.5,11 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 initially taught her how to count, I would clap and cheer every time she said the correct numbers. Then I noticed that she would stop and look at me every time she said a number, waiting for either a smile and applause or a correction. Even once she was well-practiced at counting, she still second-guessed herself until she saw my approval!
This made me realize our impact on our children’s ability to trust their sense of accomplishment. If they come to expect a huge response, they will naturally feel like they did something wrong if they don’t get that response, even if they would otherwise know they were right.
4. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome
The second part is to be careful about HOW we praise our kids. There is a vast difference between “You are so smart” and “You are a hard worker.” When we constantly tell 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.” It will give them a false sense of inherent skill and success and make them hesitate to try something new to avoid being seen as “stupid.” 2,8
Kids also greatly benefit from specific compliments that hone in on their efforts rather than the outcome. Compliments on their focus, hard work, effort, progress, and ability to learn from mistakes mean more than merely saying, “You’re the best.” 2,8
5. Let Them Take Risks (And Even Fail)
Oof, I know that’s a hard one! Watching your child struggle and not jumping in to show them the “right” or “easier” way can be challenging. However, allowing our kids to work through something independently improves their overall self-esteem.3
When we continually try to intervene, we send the message that they can’t figure it out.5 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 can finally succeed at something, the sense of pride from doing it themselves is outstanding.5 After all, children (especially younger ones) learn best through play.10 The other way is it helps them learn to fail without feeling like a failure.5
Kids who aren’t allowed to fail don’t learn how to give themselves grace and push on.5 They might be hard on themselves and feel disappointed in their failures, even though failure is typical 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 their confidence and give them a sense of autonomy.5 Now, this isn’t to say you should let your toddler call all the shots. When children are young, it’s better to reduce the number of decisions they make since it can be overwhelming for them.9
Once they start getting into the preschool years and up, slowly increase the number of choices they make.6 This is similar to giving them responsibilities around the house. It signals that they’re competent and trusted to have more and more say in their own life.5
Start with smaller choices, like what they will wear that day or which of two options they want for a snack.6 As they get older, you’ll see their ability to make intelligent decisions improve, and you can trust them with more important things. Decision-making is a skill they need to hone, so give them the space to work on that confidence.
7. Work on Setting and Achieving Goals
As your kids get older and have more significant decisions to make, it’s time to start looking at the big picture. Work together to find goals they want to achieve, then lay out plans for achieving them. The important thing is to set goals that matter to THEM, not just those that are important to you.7
The learning process helps them become more confident and resilient.7 Going back to number five, allowing them to fail at some of these goals is beneficial. It will teach them that goals are essential and that you must put in effort to meet them.5 When they do reach the goal they’ve worked for, it will be an incredible self-esteem booster!
8. Model Positive Self-Esteem in Yourself
Lastly, modeling positive self-talk is vital to raising healthy-minded children.8 The phrase “children are sponges” couldn’t be more accurate here. They are watching how you handle yourself every day.
As a woman with a postpartum body, I sometimes struggle with what I see in the mirror. And 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 mental health so they hopefully won’t have the same struggles growing up.
When our kids hear us talking negatively about our bodies, abilities, personality, etc., it also causes them to question those things about themselves.8 They’ll come into contact with enough people who put those negative thoughts in their heads. 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 challenging. It may seem like our best efforts and intentions aren’t resonating as 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 create a happier home for everyone!