As a teacher, it’s kind of heartbreaking when a child doesn’t seem to believe in himself. But when it’s my own kiddo, it’s even worse! My oldest child was born believing in herself. She has never met a problem she didn’t face with fierce determination. One of her earliest statements was “I do it myself!”
But my little boy needs lots of encouragement to try something new or master a new skill. I’m learning some techniques to build his self esteem, so he can keep trying when confronted with challenges. Here are some parenting tips to build your child’s self esteem. I am using lots of these strategies with him!
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How do I help my child with low self esteem?
Self esteem activities for kids and teens are great, but they aren’t much help if our messaging is consistently “off.” You can purchase printables, workbooks, journals and more to support a child’s self esteem. But consistent parenting and teaching strategies that build self esteem over time will be much more powerful.
Look for small opportunities to encourage independence.
Independence fosters self-esteem. Some kids have a fierce independent streak from birth, like my oldest. For kids who prefer to have a parent do everything for them, self esteem is slower growing. So how can we nurture a desire for independence? Frequent, small wins! From an early age, teach your child to:
- Dress himself
- Clean up their own messes
- Make a PB&J for themselves
- Set out their own school clothes before bed
- Do their own laundry
- Help load the dishwasher
- Wake up to an alarm and get their day started alone
- Make their bed
- Review their own missed math problems and find their own errors
Need to teach your kids to clean up after themselves? I’ve got a trick that makes this WAY easier!
These life skills might not seem particularly important, but over time, they develop self esteem that comes from knowing they are capable.
Stop solving all their problems.
This one can be so hard, especially when our kiddo’s feelings get involved. My daughter’s school year was off to a great start, and she came home talking about lots of different friends. Over time, all those names became replaced by a single name. This little girl was her new best friend, but I wasn’t too happy about it.
It started with her requiring my daughter to give away part of her lunch in order to preserve the friendship. This little girl would say, “If you don’t give me some of your ice cream, we’re not best friends anymore.”
It got worse. One day, she was super nice, and the next she’d be mean to her. My daughter started being mean back to show her how it felt. We had lots of conversations about turning the other cheek and finding new friends.
To be honest, it has been a great springboard for hard conversations about our family faith, friendship, and being true to ourselves. But she’s STILL feeling obligated to be this little girl’s friend. She tells me, “She won’t let me pick new friends or invite other kids to play.”
My husband and I were discussing it last night. We (very) briefly considered talking with the administration and requesting that she not be placed with this little girl.
However, we quickly decided against it. Dealing with mean friends, bullies, and even bad influences are all part of growing up. If we knock down this obstacle for her, how will she ever gain the confidence and self esteem that comes from having great social skills?
Instead, we want to coach her to conquer this obstacle all by herself, so she’ll be ready the next time someone’s not nice.
She CAN solve this problem, and to solve it for her sends the message that she can’t take care of herself.
Here’s a fun yet meaningful activity: create a vision board for kids together, and help their dreams come into focus!
Praise effort and process, but don’t overdo it.
Words of praise is my own love language, so shelling it out for my kids comes naturally. But I’ve noticed a big drawback – they aren’t often satisfied with their own achievements and come asking me for affirmation.
“Is this pretty, Mama?”
“Did I do a good job?”
I have to turn the tables on them, and ask, “Well? Do you like it? Then that’s all that matters!”
Be careful not to be TOO heavy with your affirmations if you want kids to look inward for satisfaction and self esteem.
Also, be most heavy-handed with praise that’s directed at effort, character, persistence, and risk-taking. Try comments like this:
- Wow! You worked on that project for such a long time! You must be proud of how it turned out.
- I’m amazed that you kept working on that puzzle, even when you got stuck.
- I love that you showed so much kindness to your new classmate. You’re a great friend.
- Even though you didn’t score a goal, I noticed that you REALLY hustled out there and worked hard. I know your coach is proud of your effort.
Here are some tips for motivating your child to learn.
Differentiate between guilt and shame.
Part of having self-confidence is believing that you are a fundamentally good person. We need to be careful when we discipline our children that we aren’t inducing shame.
The difference is subtle, but I would articulate it this way:
We feel guilt when we believe we did a bad thing.
We feel shame when we believe we are bad people.
There are no bad kids – only bad choices. Send that message loud and clear, and be careful with your tone when issuing consequences or having hard conversations.
De-stigmatize loss and failure.
Losing is no big deal. Failure isn’t either; it’s just an opportunity for reflection, improvement and growth. Learn more about having a growth mindset so you can model it for your kids. It sounds like this when an adult speaks from a growth mindset:
- “I’m not a real writer YET, but I’m trying really hard to get better.”
- “Bummer. My tomato plant didn’t produce this year. I’m gonna learn more about it, and then we’ll try again next year with a different variety!”
- Wow. Sorry dinner was kinda gross tonight, guys. The next time I want Italian food, I’ll try a different recipe!
Here are 10 ways parents can ruin their kids’ self esteem.
Are you dealing with “girl drama” and its effects on your entire household? Do you have a daughter who is dealing with mean girls at school? This post can help.
We’re not all naturally gifted at art. Some of us suck at math. Some of us are never going to be great at sports. My daughter is probably not going to be a star athlete.
If we can celebrate our gifts, we can laugh at weaknesses. No one is great at everything, so there’s no need to make a big deal out of stuff we’re bad at.
Speak life-giving words to your kids.
Pay attention to how much negativity is coming from your mouth. It drives me absolutely crazy that my daughter is messy. She leaves stuff everywhere! I’m having a hard time moving past it.
If I commented every time she left a mess behind, there wouldn’t be room for any celebrations, praise or kindness. So instead, I’m working on different tidying strategies to help her out. I’m trying very hard to counterbalance my criticism with words of gratitude for the things that make her awesome.
Looking for some activities to build your child’s self esteem – or the students in your class? Check out these ideas.
Quit trying to make them someone they’re not.
If you’re a great reader and former valedictorian, you may be really confused when your kid seems pretty disinterested in school. Don’t be so caught up in who you WISH they were that you miss out on their gifts. If they’re great at sports and a natural leader on the team, recognize that gift (out loud) and quit wishing your child was someone different.
Have big celebrations for even small victories.
When your child takes a risk, tries something new, or persists in the face of an obstacle, CELEBRATE.
Right now, we are working with my 3 year old on dressing himself. He has ZERO desire to do it himself. But we’ve got a sticker chart going, and as soon as he dresses himself 6 times, we’re going out for a family ice cream treat to celebrate his hard work!
When my daughter was learning to ride a bike, she was WAY too scared. She’s naturally pretty cautious, and all it took was one skinned knee to set her back a couple of months. When she decided to try again, you better believe I made a BIG deal out of it!
Adopt a family identity statement.
Try these on for size:
- The Turners keep trying.
- The Hernandez family knows how to hustle.
- The Kimballs are always kind.
- The Garcias do great things.
- The Patels persist.
If your child hears these family value statements often enough, it becomes a part of their identity.
Speak often about your own goals, and model risk-taking and effort.
I talk to my oldest about my blog. It’s my side hustle, and it’s a risky gamble. I’m putting tons of hours into it, and the payoff isn’t there YET. In fact, it’s quite a long way from being a profitable gig.
I talk to her about my goals and hopes and dreams all the time. I want her to see me take risks, and get up early in the morning to work on it. I want her to see me sacrifice other things in the pursuit of something that matters to me.
She hears me say YET a lot.
Help them with their appearance while recognizing that inner beauty matters most.
We all know that inner beauty matters most, and we want to cultivate that in our kids. But the truth is, MOST of us don’t feel great about ourselves if we’re not comfortable in our own skin.
Listen to your child’s concerns about his or her appearance, and do whatever it takes to help. If your kid is upset about acne, help him or her find a solution that works instead of just encouraging them to ignore the problem. If a kid is upset about being overweight and looking for help, offer to exercise with them and find out if they want to try eating healthier at the table together.
We want our kids to love themselves just the way God made them, but wanting to feel attractive, clean and healthy is totally normal.