Building self-esteem in children: Whys and How-tos

As parents, our greatest wish is for our children to become independent, capable adults when they grow up. Ideally, they’ll learn to be confident, motivated, and self-respecting by the time they come of age.

These positive traits all stem from a single quality: self-esteem. A child with plenty of self-esteem is more likely to take control of their own lives and possess the drive to succeed, while their peers with less self-esteem are more susceptible to self-doubt and inaction due to fear of rejection or failure.

Having self-esteem affects their performance in school as well; it helps kids to believe in their abilities, making them more willing to learn from their mistakes rather than becoming demotivated and giving up.

There’s no doubt that part of our goals as parents should be to lift up and sustain our children’s sense of self-esteem. But as we have all learned from experience, that’s easier said than done.

It’s one thing to boost their self-esteem with endless praise and freedom of choice, but being a proper parent also means we need to mete out disciplinary actions for wrongdoings where needed, which can be negative experiences that can pull down a child’s self-esteem. In addition, other external factors may also be detrimental to their sense of self-worth, such as being bullied in school or difficulties in socialising with their peers.

While every child is different, here are some possible ways to help foster self-esteem in them:

Help them to become motivated learners

Equipping a child with knowledge empowers them to make informed decisions and thrive in the real world, but not all knowledge can be learned in school. By teaching them how to conduct independent research and the value of inquisitiveness, your child will become more confident, raising their self-esteem as a result.

Be generous with praise where appropriate

Here’s an age-old debate: what works better for getting results, criticism or praise? While there’s still no definite answer either way, everyone agrees that praise always makes for a morale boost, and that goes for a child’s self-esteem, too.

With that said, don’t go too overboard with compliments for any minor action – praises should be earned, not expected.

It’s also important to praise a child for good actions, not results. Even though they might have gotten a ‘D’ for their exams this time, if you knew that they have done their best and studied hard regardless, they definitely deserve some kudos. It’s all about encouraging them to keep up the good work, and eventually, that work ethic will pay off.

Be a good listener

How many times have we dismissed our child’s problems by saying something like, “you’ll get over it?” More often than not, that answer is likely ‘way too many.’

To be fair, most of their problems really are minor by our standards. Maybe they’re complaining about how difficult it is to study for their Chinese spelling test, or telling you about their lazy project mates in school. But that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that these problems are significant to them, and us parents shouldn’t brush them aside. It only lowers their sense of self-worth and makes them feel more alone. Worse still, they might attempt to solve their problems haphazardly instead.

So, the next time your child comes to you with a problem, do take the time to listen to them and treat the issues seriously. Your patience and attention may be more valuable than you think.

Provide good role models, and encourage them to be one too

When it comes to role models, we’re the first ones that they look to for guidance. That’s why it’s important that we show them our best selves so that they can learn from our best qualities through emulation.

But it’s also a good idea to fill them with stories of inspirational people other than ourselves, too, whether through books, movies or articles on the internet. This will inspire them to think big, and think about what they can offer the world when they grow up. After all, a person with solid aims and direction is naturally infused with self-esteem.

Lastly, we should also encourage them to start becoming who they want to be, no matter their age. Role models aren’t just figures to follow – they are people that we should aspire to become.

Expose them to appropriate challenges

Whether they are six-years old or just past their 50th birthday, one of the best ways to instil self-confidence in someone is to give them challenges to overcome. The challenge in question can be about anything under the sun, but it’s best if it’s related to an area of focus that’s relevant to their lives, as the lessons they’ll learn throughout the process will be immediately useful.

The most important thing about the challenges you give to your child is that they should be reasonably difficult, yet achievable. An easy challenge is no challenge at all, while the toughest ones only serve to undermine their self-esteem – a complete opposite of what you want to achieve here. In contrast, a perfect challenge ensures that they put in a reasonable amount of effort, and be rewarded for it afterwards, giving them a nice boost to their confidence.

Nurturing your child’s self-esteem isn’t something you can achieve overnight. It might take weeks, months or even years to see concrete results. But don’t give up; the commitment you make to your child will pay dividends in the long run, and they’ll thank you for it one day.

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