11 Practical ways parents can help build self esteem

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?

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This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. kirri

    This is a really comprehensive list Martine. I have to admit to struggling with #4 at times…..My 5yr olds have just started prep this year and often do not want to take part in games or activities at school or even at home if they are not going to be “the winner”. Even though my husband and I encourage them to participate on all levels and just have fun, often I feel this message is undermined by television and even at school where there is a lot of emphasis on competing or rewarding the ‘winner’ on some level. Perseverance I guess?

    1. Martine

      Yes perseverance! There is nothing wrong with striving to succeed (in fact it should still be encouraged) however it is important that they are able to take the good with the bad, which is why it is helpful to start early and not always let them win every game etc. Often easier said than done depending on the child’s personality but again good to try and find that balance between being a gracious loser and a humble winner! 🙂

  2. Green Mama

    This is fantastic Martine- I’m completely over reading vague gestures about building resiliance, it’s wonderful to have a list of practical ideas to use with the cherubs to support them. Thank you. I think I might need to print this one and put it on my noticeboard…

    1. Martine

      Thanks so much, glad you found it useful.

  3. Aly @ The Mummy Hat

    What a great post! I’m book marking it for when it’s relevant for my little girl (who is only 10 months) though I can start implementing and training myself to do some of them now.
    One of the things I always try to do is to not speak in negatives to my daughter – so instead of saying “Don’t throw your food on the floor” I say “Please keep your food in the bowl/on the table”
    Popping over from FYBF

    1. Martine

      There are certainly lots of things we can start implementing early and it seems as if you are certainly doing many things already and talking in positives is a great strategy.

  4. PlanningQueen

    Brilliant post Martine! One thing I do is also to take an active interest in an area of strength that they have. As a parent you will often put in time helping them improve an area of weakness, but it I find it also important to spend time with them on things they are good at. We have been working with one of my kids literacy at the moment, but on top of spending time reading we are also spending lots of time drawing together as this is where they have a strength and really shine.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Nicole, and great advice about focusing on strengths too.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Daisy, glad you enjoyed 🙂

  5. Kelly B

    Wonderful post Martine. I really just don’t have anything else to add! Wonderful!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Kelly…..off to check out your kids apps again. Getting a bit sick of teletubbies!

  6. Modern Parenting Tips

    What a great site! I’m fully satisfied with your post, very interesting and informative. I can apply this to my own family. Thank you for the advice and tips. I will register to your site now. Keep it up.

  7. Grady Pruitt

    This is such a great post!

    I completely agree that joining a club or group of some kind can be of great benefit. One of my favorites is scouting. The reason I like scouting so much (besides the fact that I was one myself when I was younger) is that the goal of scouting (at least for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts) is to provide the very type of environment you are describing here as nurturing to the self esteem. And (especially for Cubs) one of the great points of emphasis is “To do your best”. What might be the best one can do at one activity might be child’s play to another, but on a different activity, the roles could be reversed.

    I know there are other great groups out there that a child can get a similar type of environment, so whether it be scouts or some other group, get your child involved. (And it helps if you’re involved too, even if it’s only a minor role!)

    1. Martine

      Thanks Grady for your comment. I agree that it’s important to get involved as a parent. We can’t all be the parent on every committee or taking on every role in every organization, but just having that presence as you said, even if it’s a minor role, is great for our kids to know that we are supporting their pursuits and interests.

  8. Megan @ Writing Out Loud

    Love this post, Martine – having a flick through your blog and enjoying all the tips, so thanks!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Megan, glad you are finding it useful 🙂

  9. Dave E Wilkes

    I really enjoyed reading this information, Martine. It is very comprehensive.

    I would like to extend what you wrote in point 8 about giving love.

    Some parents seem to confuse loving their child and loving what the child does, for instance my own mother used to cut her self off from me emotionally if ever I did anything that she didn’t want me to do.

    Consequently I grew up believing that her love for me was conditional on me behaving int he way she wanted me to.

    I urge all parents to make sure their children understand that “I do love you – you are a wonderful person., but I do not like the way you are behaving” etc

    1. Martine

      Certainly a very important point Dave and I agree that we must always be aware of the messages we are sending to our kids, even if we have good intentions.

  10. uzma asad

    my 8 yr old child finds it hard to understand that losing or winning is not important but participating n making effort in trying to do your best is important.he doesnt hav himhele friends how can i

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