Building Self-Esteem

by Dana Smith Bader
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The first time you see your child take pride in overcoming something difficult is an amazing moment.  I remember when my middle child had her first day at nursery without crying.  When I came to pick her up, she met me at the door of her class, and, with a trembling chin and big brown eyes full of tears about to spill over, she said is her shaky three-year old voice, “Mommy, I didn’t cry today.”  Then, as I clapped and hooted and gave her a big hug, one single tear slipped down her cheek as she gave me a wobbly smile.  I know she felt proud of herself, and I felt overjoyed that she had managed to settle into her class after one long, heart-wrenching month of settling into nursery.  I also knew that her accomplishment had laid a fundamental block in building her self-esteem.

We hear a lot about self-esteem in children and how important it is to their well-being, but self-esteem is still difficult to define.  Some describe it as self-pride, self-love, or even self-value.  Others say it is the beginnings of self-confidence.  Essentially, self-esteem is what kids need to value themselves, to believe in their abilities, and to grow in confidence.  When children believe they are valuable and are important, they take good care of themselves.  They also make good decisions which enhance their value rather than break it down.

Building a child’s self-esteem in their early years is also essential for later success in life. Teens with low self-esteem often have trouble socially and academically.  Adults with self-esteem issues, usually become involved in poor relationships, and often have trouble achieving success professionally.  Therefore, it is really important for parents to focus on building their children’s self-esteem in the early years so that they can grow into confident, successful adults later in life.

Five lasting ways to build self-esteem in kids, based on current research, are examined below:

Give children choices and responsibilities. – Encouraging children to make decisions for themselves and take responsibility early on helps to build confidence in their decision-making skills, and making decisions empowers them to be more independent.  Therefore, as a parent, you can start by giving your children simple chores like setting the table, helping to fold laundry, or helping to sweep up messes with a small broom and dustpan.  To help them make decisions, give them the choice of two shirts in the morning and ask them which one they want to wear.

Praise your children sincerely for their successes.  Be sincere and specific with your praise.  Instead of saying, “You’re the best football player in the world!” say something like, “You’re getting so good at kicking the ball!”

Use challenges and mistakes as opportunities.  To grow, children need to take risks.  When they take risks or do something new, they will inevitably make mistakes.  Instead of scolding them for their mistakes, get them to look at what happened and try to learn how they can do better next time. 

Avoid harsh criticism and sarcasm.  When you do not like something your child has done, do not criticize your child or use sarcasm to belittle them.  Rather, gently criticize the behaviour you did not like, but always let them know that you love them.  For example, if your child throws a toy, you can say, “Mommy does not like toys to be thrown.”

Create opportunities for success.  Teach your children to successfully do things for themselves from a young age.  Focus on their strengths.  Notice what they enjoy and do well, and give them opportunities to nurture these abilities.

The more successes your children have, the more confidence they will develop.  The more responsibility they take on, the more valued they will feel.  The more decisions they make for themselves, the more independent they will become.  As they grow and develop, if you lay the foundation for good self-esteem now, you can rest assured that they will be successful adults later on.

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