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Raising children's self-esteem

With so much in the press about the importance of raising children with strong self-esteem, I thought I’d do a piece on it here.
Over and above IQ and academic achievement, a child with strong self-esteem is FAR more likely to be successful in life so it is VITAL that parents work on this from an early age.

Here are some of the questions I get asked:

Is self-esteem pre-determined? Aren’t kids just born confident or sensitive?

Are we at risk of raising children who are going to be big-headed or entitled if we boost them too much?

Should we get them used to hearing criticism?

How can I make my child feel good about herself?

Having studied this area for 20 years and raised my own 4 children using my principles, I really understand parents concern about this and I’ve got some pointers for you.

Think about the kind of adult you want your child to turn into. You could look at the qualities of the people you admire (if you want them to turn out different from you!).  Most people want their children to be confident, considerate, honest, able to take risks, resilient and appreciative. When you look to the future it helps shape how you parent now.

A child with high self-esteem is more likely to:

  • Accept responsibility and less likely to blame others or cover up their mistakes.
  • Volunteer to do things, take risks and not mind making mistakes.
  • Stand up for themselves or others when they think something is unjust.
  • Is much less likely to be bullied or badly influenced. The way they respond to bullies is underpinned by the strong self-belief they have.
  • Take more risks and step out of their comfort zone because they aren't afraid of failing or looking stupid.
  • More likely to be resilient and bounce back from disappointments or failures.

A child with low self-esteem is more likely to:

  • Base her self-worth on the approval of others.
  • Boost himself by putting others down, over-exaggerating his abilities or bragging about their material possessions or abilities.
  • More likely to be bullied or subjected to peer-pressure.
  • Be fearful of risk-taking
  • Give himself labels like ‘dumb’, ‘useless’ or feel like no-one likes them.

So what can we do?

Firstly modelling is crucial in all aspects of parenting so if we are suffering from low self-esteem in any way it is so important to work on ourselves.  Some of this is by changing our mindset (there are some great books and podcasts about this), other ways are from working with a coach or therapist or putting in place simple daily practices like writing down 5 things you did well that day. Our children are sponges for us.  They of course have their own temperaments and some are more sensitive than others so we have to adapt our parenting style to suit the temperament of each child but work can be done.

Secondly we need to validate and accept our children’s feelings and foster an environment of open communication.  We need to give them the message that all feelings are ok and that it is a strength not a weakness to express our feelings. Supressed feelings can lead to a child with anger issues, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and fears.

Thirdly we need to acknowledge a child’s strengths, abilities and character traits. We need to do this in everyday conversations and not wait till they’ve ‘achieved a top mark’ or ‘scored a goal in football’. They need to know that we approve of them, that we love them unconditionally and we can do this by using affirming language with detailed and specific praise – ie not ‘You are the best/cleverest/most amazing child’ but ‘I can see you are really concentrating on reading your book. You are sounding the words out and using the techniques you learnt at school. You are persevering and becoming so much more fluent at reading’ – Can you see the difference?

Raising a child’s self-esteem is a long process. You can’t quick fix it, it requires a lot of work but it really pays off! We've worked hard to help our children believe in themselves even when they've failed at things, had set back or not been picked for teams. One of my children failed an exam 3 times but she didn't make it mean she was stupid. She was upset and down at first but was able to bounce back and try again. I think this was a lot to do with the work we have done with her from an early age.