For caregivers and parents, empowering children to have healthy self-esteem can be one of the greatest goals. The statistics stating how important self-esteem is to lifelong success are plenty; however, understanding the steps for a child to actually build that self-esteem can be a challenge. How can adults help kids build self-esteem — and why does it matter? Keep reading to start your rewarding journey into helping children develop healthy feelings about themselves.
Why Self-Esteem Matters
Childhood development experts see self-esteem as a child’s ability to accept who they are and choose to like themselves just as they are. Through successful interactions and positive affirmations, this self-esteem grows. Self-esteem sets a strong foundation for self-love and a lifelong commitment to believing in yourself.
With strong self-esteem, kids grow up feeling capable and confident. You can imagine the impact this has on long-term success. When we value ourselves and our abilities, we are proud of what we can accomplish and we seek to be our best selves. It also makes us happier and healthier overall and lends itself to more positive relationships.
Psychologists define low self-esteem as a thinking disorder people can experience when they view themselves as inadequate, unlovable or incompetent. This kind of thinking can filter through into every facet of life and, unfortunately, sometimes lead to ongoing self-defeating behaviors. No caregiver wants this for a child. But there are many ways you can help to encourage a child as they develop their self-esteem.
It’s important to note that self-esteem can be established in children as young as age five, according to University of Washington self-esteem studies. While adults can certainly build self-esteem at any age, that foundation is laid as a child. Whatever a child’s age, there is never a better time than now to begin supporting their self-esteem.
What You Can Do to Help Kids Build Self-Esteem
While helping children cultivate a strong self-esteem and sense of self-love may seem like an overwhelming challenge, no special curriculum or plan is needed. Adults can help children develop self-esteem through daily experiences.
Here are some ways you can help:
1. Help Them Learn to Do New Things
One key strategy to help a child feel capable and proud is to challenge them with age-appropriate learning opportunities. As they take on new things, they’ll see the reward in perseverance and view themselves in a confident light. This helps create a sense of pride in children.
First, take a look at the child’s interests. What can you do to help them explore something new in an area they enjoy? And don’t be afraid to step back and let them take measured risks to develop grit. As children try new things and experience failure, they learn to work through adversity. It’s those moments when we get to “dust ourselves off” that we learn resilience. This skill will help them hold on to self-esteem as challenges arise throughout their lives.
As you consider learning opportunities, take care to find balance: choose activities that won’t be too difficult or too easy. The more you encourage them to learn and explore their abilities, the more their self-esteem will grow. It is great to focus on strengths and continue to hone in on them.
2. Praise Them
How can you help a child learn to see themselves in a positive light? Share positive praise with them! The way you see them might be the way they learn to see themselves.
What you focus on with praise has an impact. Praising effort, progress and attitude is likely to have a significant impact on self-esteem. Instead of praising results alone (which can lead to unhealthy perfectionism), tell them how proud you are for their determination or diligence. For example, instead of praising them for earning an A on schoolwork, praise them for the hard work they put in to study and learn.
Find a happy medium between over-praise and under-praise to appropriately speak to them about an achievement. As you help them see what they’re capable of accomplishing, they’ll begin to understand their own potential.
On the other hand, be thoughtful in how you speak to a child when you’re upset or when they need discipline. Be careful not to say something that could discourage them or put them down. Instead, encourage them by telling them that it’s okay to struggle sometimes and that what matters most is how we bounce back from failure. Show them that you’re there to support and help them overcome challenges. Give them the tools to do better next time and to be proud of their progress toward improvements.
3. Model the Right Attitude
Role modeling has always been one of the strongest ways to teach kids a principle or idea. You have the power to show them through your own actions how to have healthy responses to life’s challenges and how to take pride in a job well done. So when you face something difficult in your own life, take the opportunity to illustrate a positive attitude.
Part of self-esteem is knowing that setbacks don’t make a difference to your self-worth. When you talk about an obstacle, demonstrate positive self-talk and let them see your confidence in yourself. Role modeling like this can give children a script of their own to address the obstacles that may come.
Even if we don’t realize it, our own actions and words toward ourselves can diminish what we’re trying to cultivate in kids. So in your own life, ban self-criticism and your own negative self-talk as much as you can. Promote positive self-reflection instead.
And on the days when you do stumble and find self-esteem challenging yourself? Be authentic. You can show kids that they don’t have to be perfect to believe in themselves and love themselves.
4. Empower Kids to Help, Give and Share
Kids absorb cultural messages, and it’s easy for children to believe they have to be great at everything and look great every day, which compounds toxic stress and pressure. But of course, no one is perfect. When children inevitably make a mistake, face peer rejection, or don’t make the team, they can feel crushed. Because of this, it’s important to show kids that they’re part of something much bigger than themselves.
Self-esteem grows when kids get to see how their actions matter to others. And kids of all ages can enjoy this self-esteem strategy. For young children, opportunities to help out at home can build a strong self-image. Even taking a small part in a big project (like working in the garden or washing the car, for example) can provide a meaningful chance to grow.
Older children can see how their skills improve the community through service projects with family or school. Building connections can help kids shift focus from a negative self-image, and can help them bounce back stronger. Volunteering and giving back to the community can be vital in helping adolescents and teenagers get a big-picture perspective — and, in turn, see how they can play a role in making the world a little better. That’s an ideal foundation for self-esteem.
5. Encourage Smart Social Media Habits
It’s clear that social media has the power to take down self-esteem. As adults, it’s easy to play the comparison game and kids and teens are even more prone to do so. How do you combat this common challenge? One key is to keep an open dialogue about the positive and negative impacts of social media.
Teach kids smart social media habits, and coach them on what appropriate social media use looks like. This is another area where your role modeling can make a difference. Show them what you’re doing or looking at on social media — and what you aren’t. Talk about the difference between a positive influence and a negative influence, and help kids learn to listen to their internal cues about when it’s time to set social media aside for a bit.
Learn about skills to improve mental health as you spend time on social media. Work together as a family to find a social media balance that makes sense for you. If a child shares that a particular social media account is consistently upsetting them, help them determine when it’s time to unfollow or how to reframe their thoughts when looking at certain things.
You have the power to help children build their self-esteem. By taking just one of these tips at a time, you can begin to empower and encourage them. This lifelong journey of self-esteem building can be immensely rewarding.
Visit cambermentalhealth.org/resources for more tips and tools you can use to help kids develop important life skills for healthy, happy brains and coping with life’s challenges!
About Camber (Previously KVC Hospitals)
For 30 years, Camber (previously KVC Hospitals) has helped thousands of kids and teens achieve mental health wellness through expert and compassionate treatment. Camber uses a patient-centered approach that works to heal the whole family unit when a child is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, the impacts of trauma, and other behavioral health needs. To learn more about our services and how we can help your family, visit cambermentalhealth.org or call us at 913-890-7468.