Children of all ages are constantly learning. Their brains are literally hardwired for it! They are little sponges soaking in anything and everything about their environments. Early childhood and adolescence are critical stages in development for this very reason. Often times messages that children learn during these periods stick with them long into adulthood whether or not they are consciously aware of it. So, we know that our children are learning a lot about the world, but what are they learning about themselves? What messages can we send them to help them grow into confident, independent, and effective adults? Here are a few tips to help raise your child’s self-esteem.
Praise their efforts, not their performance. Children are constantly asking for feedback. “What do you think of this picture I drew?” “Look how fast I can run!” “Look at what I made in school today!” The list goes on and on. While our child might be a little Picasso in the making, chances are they are not going to be exceptionally talented in every single area. Studies show that GPA is a better predictor for future success than standardized test scores. This is because it takes a lot more effort to maintain a solid GPA than to score well on one test. If we want our children to be confident and successful, it is important to praise and encourage their hard work and effort. Simply switching the dialogue from, “Wow look how good of an artist/athlete you are, I am proud of you,” to “wow look how hard you worked on this, I am proud of you,” helps to reinforce that their hard work and effort are what made you proud, not their skills. That is something that they can transfer to anything that they tackle no matter their skill.
Be accepting of failure. No parent wants to see their child fail. We want to protect our children from anything that can do them harm. Unfortunately, this conflicts with our goal of raising them into independent human beings because, inevitably, failure is a part of life. No matter what, we all fail at some point whether it is failing a test or not making the softball team. By never letting our children fail, we do them a great disservice. When we do not let our children fail we strip them of the chance to build resiliency and send them the message that they are not capable of handling things themselves. This does not mean we need to throw them into the deep end without a life preserver when they do not know how to swim. It means that we choose appropriate times to take a step back and be ready to be there when they fall. Just like learning to ride a bike, you need to fall down a few times in order to find your balance. As parents, it is important for us to be there when they do fall down, to be supportive, to praise their efforts, and help give them the confidence to try again.
Treat them with respect. Whether or not they are full sized, children are people too. A child deserves respect and love just as any other human on this planet. While the adult in a child’s life undoubtedly holds the authority in the relationship, this does not mean that this cannot be accomplished without elements of respect. We can respect our children by listening to them and valuing their opinions. When children feel they are being heard and understood, they are much more likely to feel secure and confident in themselves. Children are bound to make mistakes. Before we jump down their throat with a lecture, it is important to give them a chance by listening to them. We can always make a moment teachable, but we can do so in a respectful way in which the child will be much more willing to absorb. If you respect your child, your child will respect themselves.