Self-esteem: the basics
Self-esteem is about liking yourself and who you are. This doesn’t mean being overconfident – just believing in yourself and knowing what you do well.
For children, self-esteem comes from:
- knowing that they’re loved and that they belong to a family and a community that values them
- spending quality time with their families
- being encouraged to try new things, finding things they’re good at and being praised for things that are important to them.
The most important thing you can do to foster your child’s self-esteem is to tell your child that you love him. Say it often and for no reason other than to show you appreciate your child.
Relationships, connections, belonging and your child’s self-esteem
Being connected to other people who care about her is good for your child’s self-esteem. It gives her a stronger sense of her place in your immediate and extended family. And being connected to friends and people in the community helps your child learn how to relate to others and can boost her confidence.
Here are some ideas for nurturing your child’s self-esteem through relationships:
- Strengthen your child’s sense of his family, culture and community. For example, show your child family photos and share family stories, take part in community or cultural events like religious festivals, and encourage your child join a local sporting club or interest group, or join as a family.
- Encourage your child to value being part of your family. One way to do this is by involving your child in chores. When everyone contributes to the smooth running of the household, you all feel important and valued.
- Make your child’s friends welcome and get to know them. Encourage your child to have friends over to your house, and make time for your child to go to their houses.
Quality time and your child’s self-esteem
When you spend quality time with your child you let your child know she’s important to you. Doing things together as a family can help strengthen a sense of belonging and togetherness in your family, which is also good for your child’s self-esteem.
Here are some ideas:
- Develop family rituals. These could include a story at bedtime, a special goodbye kiss or other ways of doing things that are special to your family.
- Let your child help you with something, so that he feels useful. For example, your preschooler could help you set the table for dinner.
- Plan some regular one-on-one time with your child, doing something that she enjoys, whether it’s drawing, doing puzzles, kicking a soccer ball or baking cakes.
Achievements, challenges and your child’s self-esteem
Success and achievements can help your child feel good about himself. But your child can also build self-esteem doing things he doesn’t always enjoy or succeed at. You can still praise his effort and determination – and remind him that these will help him succeed in other areas, or next time.
There are lots of ways to help your child succeed, achieve and cope well with failure:
- When your child has a problem, encourage her to think calmly, listen to other people’s points of view and come up with possible solutions to try. This builds important life skills.
- Help your child learn new things and achieve goals. When your child is younger, this might mean praising and encouraging him when he learns something new, like riding a bike. When he’s older, it might be taking him to sport and helping him practise.
- Celebrate big and small achievements and successes. And remember to praise your child’s effort, not just her results. For example, ‘You tried that puzzle piece in lots of different spots and you finally got it right. Well done!’.
- Keep special reminders of your child’s successes and progress. You can go through them with your child and talk about your special memories, and the things he has achieved.
- Teach your child that failing is a part of learning. For example, if she keeps missing the ball when she’s learning to catch, say ‘You’re getting closer each time. I can see how hard you’re trying to catch it’.
- Teach your child to treat himself kindly when he does fail. You could be a role model here. For example, ‘I tried a new recipe, and the cake looks a bit funny. But that’s OK. It smells delicious’.
Things that can damage children's self-esteem
Messages that say something negative about children are bad for their self-esteem – for example, ‘You are slow, naughty, a bully, a sook …’. When children do something you don’t like, it’s better to tell them what they could do instead. For example, ‘You haven’t done your homework. You need to sit down now and finish your maths questions’.
Messages that imply that life would be better without children might harm their self-esteem. For example, ‘If it weren’t for the children, we could afford a new car’.
Ignoring children, treating them like a nuisance and not taking an interest in them are likely to be bad for children’s self-esteem. An example might be, ‘I am sick and tired of you’. Frowning or sighing all the time when children want to talk to you might have the same effect.
Negative comparisons with other children, especially brothers and sisters, are also unlikely to be helpful. Each child in your family is different, with individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s better if you can recognise each child’s successes and achievements.
All parents feel frustrated and tired sometimes. But if parents send the message that they feel like this about their children all the time, children get the message that they’re a nuisance.
Changes like moving house, school or country, or separation or divorce, might affect your child’s self-esteem. If your family is going through experiences like these, try to keep up family rituals and your child’s activities, as well as giving your child lots of love. This will help your child feel OK about herself and her identity even as things around her are changing.