A question I often get asked is “how can I help boost my child’s self esteem?” So to look at this we need to see what is it that gives a person a strong sense of self-worth. I believe there are two factors involved. The two pillars of self esteem are a sense of loveability and a sense of capability.
Increasing a child’s sense of loveability
How can you let children know that they are loved?
Acknowledge feelings– By listening to them, and acknowledging and naming their feelings. Really listening and trying to understand your child shows your child that what they think and feel matters to you. Don’t try to minimise or talk them out of their feelings. Just meet them where they are and really let them know that you understand.
Look for opportunities for positive interactions– It is said that in healthy families there are five times more positive interactions than negative ones. That means for every negative interaction you have with your child you need to have at least five positive ones to help your child to feel good about themselves. Positive interactions can include active listening (see my blog post on communication), encouragement and praise, physical contact such as hugs, Telling them that you love them, commenting on something that you like about them, or something that they did that you liked, and, most importantly, spending quality time with them.
Separate the behaviour from the person– When correcting behaviour, remember: The child is not bad. They are simply showing you that they are having difficulty handling a situation, and need your help to control their impulses. When you label a child as bad, bold or naughty, they begin to believe that label, and see themselves as unlovable. Punishing the child rather than providing sanctions (sanctuary) for inappropriate behaviour leads the child to feel rejection. It is far easier to help the child to learn good behaviour when there is a feeling of safety and connection between you and your child. (stay tuned for more on this in my future blog on discipline).
How is your self esteem? Children are like a mirror to their parents. If you are lacking in confidence, there is a chance that your child will be too. Aggressive, domineering behaviours and passive, submissive behaviours are both signs of low self esteem. This is by no means a criticism of you. Every parent is doing the best they can with whatever resources they have. If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and really like yourself, then you may want to look at ways that help you to build your confidence and self esteem. Counselling or psychotherapy can be very helpful to help you to get to know yourself and love yourself, ‘warts and all’. This has a ripple effect, helping to create more harmony in the family. Another helpful tip is to write down as many things as you can that you like about yourself. Do this regularly and you will begin to see your mindset change.
Increasing a child’s sense of capability
From a very young age, children are trying to gain a sense of autonomy. They naturally want to do things for themselves, and should be encouraged to do so. This helps a child to develop a sense of mastery and self confidence. Doing everything for your child can make them feel helpless and dependent. Wrapping them in cotton wool prevents them from developing good ‘risk assessment’ skills, and can lead them to live fearful lives, not believing in their own abilities. Instead of shouting “be careful, you’ll fall”, try saying, “I trust you to be careful” and see what a difference this can make to your child’s confidence. I was recently in the woods with my youngest son, who loves to climb trees. He used to be afraid of heights but now is very competent at climbing. He thanked me on the way back to the car. When I asked him what he was thanking me for he said he liked it that when he asked me if I thought he should climb up to the next branch, I would often reply, “If you think you are able then go for it”. This, he said, made him feel good about himself, that I trusted in his judgement.
When children come to you with a problem, try not to jump in with a solution. Try instead to work together to brainstorm for a solution. What are some ideas that they think might help. It may be helpful to say something like, “I am glad you came to talk to me about this. What do you think are some things you could do about this?” or “How would you like me to help you?”
Children are capable of far more than many of us give them credit for. Give them the space to spread their wings and watch them soar.
These are some general tips which can help your child grow in confidence. If you have concerns regarding the severity or duration of your child’s low self esteem you may want to look into bringing your child for play therapy. This can give your child the space and safety to explore and work through deep underlying issues which may be causing their low self esteem. To find out more visit my page on play therapy, or contact me on 086 8072322 or firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange an appointment to discuss your concerns.