Self esteem is one of the most important aspects of our children’s development. Having a healthy and positive self esteem means our children feel good about themselves, have the courage to try new things, the confidence to do things independently, to stand up for what they believe in, to take pride in themselves, to set goals and to accept and give love. As discussed previously, we are generally pretty good at the positive reinforcement and praise elements of building a positive self esteem, and are doing this well, particularly in the early years of development (think how excited we get when they take their first steps…or the jubilation with which we respond to a first wee on the potty). But as our kids get older we need to ensure that this self esteem remains firmly in tact, and must therefore rely on many other forms of confidence building to ensure it is not just about their achievements and the subsequent praise, but rather a more well rounded approach that includes many other skills and coping strategies in order for our children to help face the many challenges that will lay ahead. For praise alone will not sustain their skills, belief, integrity, assertiveness, acceptance, responsibility and sense of purpose.
Below are some of the many ways we can encourage and develop our children’s positive self esteem that can certainly start from very early in life, but must be continued throughout the adolescent and teenage years.
1. Provide a safe environment for our children to learn, grow and tackle appropriate challenges and risks: This not only refers to the physical safety of environment but also the safety of support and encouragement to try new things. For a toddler this may mean letting them roam free in the backyard, allowing them to explore, to dig in the dirt, to try and ride a bike and to climb. We can be close by and we can ensure that the area is safe but we must also stand back enough to let them make their own choices about how they will play. For an older child, this needs to extend to such things as letting them ride or walk to school or to the park with friends or siblings. To show them that you have faith in them to increase the levels of freedom, providing they are proving themselves to be trusted to make the appropriate choices. It also means encouraging them to try out for a sports team, a school play or to have a go at something they haven’t tried before, thus forcing them to move outside their comfort zones. Letting them tackle greater freedoms shows them that you trust them and are thus building their own confidence and independence, and by urging them to motivate and challenge themselves you are also helping them to feel good about themselves.
2.Encourage exercise to maintain healthy body image. It is much easier for kids to follow actions rather than words so be sure to involve your children in physical activities as a family. Go for walks together, ride bikes, kick the footy at the park, dance in the loungeroom, go skiing or swimming at the beach. You don’t have to be elite sportspeople to enjoy activity and exercise. The teenage years bring much uncertainty and comparisons about body image and physical appearance so it is important that our children have a healthy approach to exercise and its association with health and well being rather than purely appearance.
3.Encourage the joining of clubs, teams or organizations to enhance a sense of community and belonging. My boys love the participation and enjoyment they get from belonging to the local football club where they have made many friends from the area and not just those that go to the same school. Even the son that doesn’t play football has made himself involved in the club and this association is important to feel included and part of something outside the family and friendship groups. So whether it be girl guides or cubs, choirs, youth groups, theatre groups or sporting clubs, the sense of community is a worthy asset to our children’s feeling of belonging. Having the support of those with similiar interests also helps to keep them motivated when other negative influences threaten to take their attention.
4.Let them know that it is OK to experience failure or loss: Despite what many have recently tried to achieve in the name of political correctness and “constant praise”, in real life we cannot always win the prize, make the sports team, get the best grades or go through life unscathed by loss or disappointment. It is for this reason that we must allow our kids exposure to such disappointments from an early age so they have the resilience to pick themselves up and try again. It is our role to help support them though these disappointments and encourage them to try again, and build up the coping mechanisms that enable them to adapt to the challenges that will only increase as they grow.
5.Give them jobs to do and chores to complete to ensure responsibility, pride in achievements and a feeling of independence. This can be something that can be started very early. As I have written about before, be sure to ask yourself this question often, “What are you doing for your children that they could be doing for themselves?”. If we start early, it is much easier for our children to continue this throughout their teenage years. Chores and responsibilities therefore become part of their daily or weekly ritual, and are less likely to be questioned later on and will thus require less nagging on our behalf. Take the time to teach them how to make dinner, help change a tyre, mow the lawns, sew a button or fix a leaking tap. In the long run, these responsibilities will result in much greater rewards for all, but most importantly a sense of achievement for our children that will encourage them to take on more challenging responsibilities with the knowledge that they are able to function independently and achieve so much on their own.
6.Help them learn how to set and achieve goals.Children need to be shown the importance of setting goals and most importantly setting goals that are achievable and realistic whilst still challenging. They also need to have the skills to get back on track when things don’t go to plan. This helps them to start thinking about their futures and encourages the motivation to strive for things. This ability to set goals and plan for the future can also start early. Again when our children are little, we are good at offering more challenging puzzles, we can help them move from three wheeled trycicles to 2 wheeled bikes and see them rejoice in these advances. But as they get older we need to remember to continue to offer this encouragment for challenges and goal setting. This may mean setting goals to stand up on a surf board, pass a certain level of reading, bake a cake on their own or make the biggest ramp at the skatepark. The more relevant to their interests you can make their goals, the more likely they are to succeed, and the more likely it is that they will be able to adapt their goal setting to the many other areas of their lives that may need assistance.
7.Encourage them to volunteer, help other people and share their talents.This is a far more beneficial way for our kids to feel better about themselves than merely having their parents tell them how good they are at something. Helping other kids with a skill that they have mastered is enormously beneficial to their self esteem. They can teach a younger sibling how to kick a ball, draw something, or attempt a new scooter trick. They can help friends with a difficult maths question or how to get to the next level on a computer game. Helping out where they are exposed to those less fortunate or privileged is also an amazing way to help kids feel better about themselves and more generous with what they have and how they can share what they have been given.
8.Parents can continue to give love, attention and affection even when you think they don’t want it. Again when they are young it is easy to be affectionate, to shower with cuddles and snuggle up with a bedtime story. As they get older, they may change the way they receive your love and affection, but emotionally the need is still there. You don’t have to shower them with kisses when you pick them up from a party, but there are other ways to let them know you are always there for them and are willing to listen, that can be adapted depending on age, circumstance and development.
9.Be a good role model – Again, our children learn so much more from the way we live our own lives rather than how we teach them to live theirs. So it is important not to be constantly whinging about weight, wrinkles or weaknesses etc, but rather be seen to be focusing on positive things or doing something positive about certain situations. i.e. it is much better for them to hear “I feel so much better when I exercise and have so much more energy” rather than “ I’m so fat and revolting I should be doing more exercise”!
10.Allow them to sort out and resolve coflicts themselves. This skill ensures that they are able to listen to others, look for compromise, assert themselves and not always be relying on you to bail them out. When they are fighting with siblings, teach them ways to compromise, take turns or communicate more effectively. When they lose things, forget things, or mess things up, don’t always be there to pick up the pieces, replace the item or go into battle. It is hard to keep ourselves from holding their hands through all lifes challenges, but learning to prevent these instances from happening again is far more beneficial for their own sense of coping, assertiveness and responsibility.
11. Sense of humour. I was going to stop at 10 but couldn’t go past this most important aspect of parenting, to have fun and laugh with it. As parents we need to let our children know that it is also OK to laugh at ourselves sometimes. No parent or child ever is, nor ever will be perfect. I was reminded about this the other day when my 8 year old said to me “It’s pretty lucky that Aunty Sammy makes all our birthday cakes because you are not very good at decorating cakes are you mum?” We both had a laugh and I replied “no its not one of my stronger points”, to which he added “but that’s OK because you cant be good at everything mum”.
Part of having a positive self esteem is accepting all the aspects of ourselves, our weaknesses, our strengths, our failures and our successes and doing so with a smile on our face.
What do you think you do well when it comes to building your kids self esteem…and what are some things you may be more conscious of in the future?