Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

By Rebeccah Minazadeh

Having resiliency skills is correlated with a high self-esteem. Confident children are able to cope with life challenges because they recognize their strengths and weaknesses, take more risks, ask for help and resist negative pressures. They smile more and have a healthy balance between being realistic and optimistic. Children with high self-esteem feel capable loved and enjoy a positive self-image. Self-esteem patterns are built in childhood and solidify as a child grows. While self-esteem is still malleable in childhood this is the optimal time to be aware of how you influence your child’s self-concept, and to help your child grow more confident. Here are ten ways you can build your child’s self-esteem.

  1. Develop your child’s emotional vocabulary. Boys can grow up believing that expressing their feelings is a weakness. Saying, “Boys don’t cry,” and “Man up,” sends our sons the message that their feelings do not matter- that their needs do not matter. Girls may start to believe that when emotional, they are “over-reacting,” “spoiled,” or “hysterical.” These invalidating messages hinder our children’s capacity to honor and feel their feelings, ultimately leading to a stifled self-esteem. Alternatively, feeling safe to express their feelings allows children to work through their distress. We can help them feel safe with their emotions by asking how they are feeling, by responding attentively to them, communicating with them and validating their feelings. Our children can then develop the courage and esteem to be aware of, to sort, and to address their needs and wants. Resilient Children teaches self-awareness, emotional, and communication skills that will help your child to build resiliency. Some fun and effective exercises that you can do with your child or student include, “Box of Feelings,” “Handling My Anger,” “Using Feeling Words,” and “’I’ Messages.”.
  2. Celebrate your child’s non-physical strengths. The media tells our children that their best most important feature is their physical strength. While we appreciate that this is a key point of confidence, we also know that this is not the only source of their self-worth. Teach your child about his character traits that matter, his/her intelligence, morality and ability to solve conflict. Encouraging our children for their efforts rather than achievements alone, encourages them to build on their skills, and gives them adequate credit. For a job well done, a suggested alternative to, “Great job!” is “Great effort,” or, “I like how you paused and worked through that difficult task; I am proud of you.” To make sure that your child feels important just for being whom he/she is, not for his/her performances, encourage your child’s efforts rather than the grade. Encourage your child’s capacity to empathize with others and to be courteous, rather than his/her popularity. By giving our children meaningful compliments and by showing them that we cherish them, we show them that their worth rests in who they are, not what they have and do. This creates an unshakable sense of security and a high self-esteem. The exercises, “I Am Great,” “I Am!” “The Appreciation Game,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Only One of You,” and “I am Special” are few of many exercises to get started. Our chapters on self-awareness, anti-bullying and conflict-resolution offer more opportunities to help your child build his/her self-esteem.
  3. Do the things that your child likes to do. Play time tells your child that he is valuable and worthy of your time and attention. Allow your child to initiate the play and to choose the activity. This encourages assertiveness and confidence. When we share in playing with our children and participate in their hobbies, we send the message that we care about the things that are important to them. Their passions and interests are not only a gift for them, but vehicles through which they can express themselves, connect with others and share their talents. This reminds them that they are important which will boost their self-esteem. During play send your child the message that he is special by being present in both body and spirit. Get your knees dirty with your child, encourage fantasy, and create a safe space for exploration. “The Personal Objects Bag,” “My Goals for This Year,” “I Can Do This!”, “All About Me,” “What’s in My Bag?” and “Unique and Similar” are exercises that will get your children to talk about the activities that make them happy, and offer the opportunity to invite you and others to participate. For further reference, check out our chapters with exercises dedicated to friendship-building skills.
  4. Help kids become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation, rather than competition help to foster self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older child helps a younger one learn to read, and volunteering and contributing to your local community can have positive effects on self-esteem for everyone. Resilient Children has multiple exercises to help children cooperate, such as, “Friends and Friendship,” “Acts of Friendship,” “Building Friendship,” and “Body Language.”
  5. Give your child a job. When you give your children more responsibilities, this shows them that you trust them to meet the challenge. It also gives the opportunity to feel like they have something important to offer, to work through their own challenges and to feel a sense of accomplishment. It shows that the adult believes in their capabilities which make them feel better about themselves. We recommend making a responsibility chart with goals and rewards with your child. This will help your child to set goals in the future. Some chapters for your reference include, and are not limited to, conflict-resolution skills and self-awareness skills. “Name Those Skills, “ Conversation Makers and Breakers, “My Growth and My Goals” and “Letter to a Bully,” are some of many exercises that Resilient Children offers, which similarly give children a sense of personal responsibility, integrity, assertiveness and self-esteem.
  6. Encourage your child’s uniqueness. Not every boy likes science fairs, wrestling and playing with cars. Not every girl likes cooking, playing house and dressing up. That’s okay. The unique qualities that a child has also make him special. By encouraging these in children, we teach them to recognize that they have a right to be happy with the things that they appreciate, even if others tease them. Resilient Children is saturated with exercises to help your child embrace his uniqueness. These are included in our sections on friendship, anti-bullying, and self-awareness skills, and others. Some of the exercises you will find are: “Unique and Similar,” “My Family is Special,” “Respecting Differences,” “I Am Special,” “Only One of You,” and more!
  7. Role model genuine, high self-esteem. Children’s self-concept is tied to their parents, and they sense the feelings of the adults around them. By being true to our feelings, honoring them, and expressing them honestly, we role-model healthy emotional patterns tied to our self-image. Children absorb how we talk about our bodies, how we perceive the world and how we view our own needs and wants. We remember that children are perceptive about how genuine we are about our feelings. Make sure that not only do you talk about your body in a kind way, but that you truly believe it deserves to be treated as such. For example, while you may tell your child that you love your body; do you linger on the scale, or inadvertently rub your body where you are most insecure?

Moreover, showing sensitivity to our children’s feelings teaches them how to be sensitive to our own opinions and values. How we view and overcome our disappointments is significant, too. As adults, we ought to feel comfortable saying, “I couldn’t sing to save my life.” By treating our shortcomings with light humor, warmth, and by demonstrating an overall tone of acceptance, we model behavior which teaches our children to accept themselves.

In addition, children who doubt themselves in one area may generalize that to others. For example, a student who does well in school but who struggles in art may say, “I can’t paint. I’m a bad student.” This is the sort of belief that can set a child up for failure. It is important here for the adult to step in and help the child see the experience objectively. An appropriate response would be, “You are a good student. You work hard in school. You may want to spend more time on your art homework. We can do it together.” Another way to role-model a confident response to a child’s insecurity is by practicing the carry-over principle. Develop your child’s talent, and carry that over into other things. For example, apply knowledge in one area to another field. You can encourage the enjoyment of athletics onto academics and his self-esteem about the subject will rise.

  1. Monitor school influences on your child. Ensure that the many hours your child is at school is time valuably spent. Monitor that that he/she feels safe and welcomed in school. Resilient Children offers great exercises to help your child cope with bullying, and to teach your child important conflict resolution and friendship skills.
  2. Create a safe, loving home environment. Kids who do not feel safe at home- emotionally, physically, and intellectually are at greatest risk for developing poor self-esteem. A child who is exposed to parents who fight and argue may feel helpless or depressed. Create a peace area in your home where family members and friends can go to practice problem-solving skills, or just to calm down and relax. There is more instruction offered on this in Resilient Children. Also be mindful of signs of abuse by others, problems in school, trouble with peers and other factors that may affect kids’ self-esteem. Encourage your kids to talk to you or other trusted adults about solving problems that are too big to solve by themselves.
  3. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Sharing your love with your child will increase his/her self-esteem. When you see them trying very hard, hug them and tell them that you are proud. Leave notes for your child in his/her lunchbox with positive affirmations and reminders that he/she is terrific. Do not compare your child to other children. Give your child the peace of knowing that no one is more or less worthy of love than the next person. In addition, lovingly address your child by name. This is a simple, but effective and powerful way to show your child that he/she is being seen, heard and respected.

Furthermore, give positive, accurate feedback. Give genuine praises. A child with an inflated ego will likely put others down, so make sure that praise is given appropriately and in moderation. Responding to your child when he/she is stressed by saying something like, “You always work yourself up into such a frenzy!” will make him/her feel powerless over her tantrums. A more gentle and appropriate alternative would be to say, “I can see you are very angry with your brother. It was nice that you could talk to him about how you felt, instead of hitting him.” This tells him that his feelings matter and encourages him to take the right steps next time.

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