The dictionary meaning of self esteem is “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities”.
Children with a high self-esteem feel good about themselves. They are confident and are willing to try new things. They can cope well with the mistakes they make; they try again without feeling ashamed of their failures.
On the other hand, children with a low self-esteem are not confident. They constantly feel that others won’t accept them as they are. They let others bully them and treat them badly. They feel so scared about failing that they do not want to try new things.
Thus, if we want our children to be successful, to be happy developing their self-esteem is extremely important.
Self-esteem starts building up right from babyhood. If children feel loved and safe, if they get positive attention, if they are cheered at their accomplishments and helped when they falter, they will develop a high self-esteem.
1. Praise but do not Over-praise
Always praise your children’s efforts. Praising them shows how proud you are of them. If they put in hard work, praise them for that, irrespective of the result.
“You worked hard on that project. I’m proud of you.”
“It’s great to see you practicing the guitar every day.”
Even if they fail, you should praise them if they put in effort. “It was probably not your best game, but I am glad you tried your best till the end and did not give up. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
Avoid praising only for results or for some physical attributes.
While praising a child builds self-esteem and has a tremendous positive effect, over praising can be quite harmful. If you praise your children for every small thing that they do, it might lower the bar for them. They might start thinking that they are already doing a great job and do not need to put in more effort. They will stop pushing themselves.
By telling the child that they are the best or the smartest, you might be setting them up for disappointment in life.
2. Let them take some risks
Do not try to rescue them from failures at all times or stop them from taking even healthy risks. They need to learn to evaluate decisions for themselves and then face the consequences of those actions. You can help them in the evaluation process but do not stop them from making their own decision (if the risk involved is not too great). Let them get a little bit of hurt, let them fall down and get up again. Let them fail at times.
3. Encourage them to learn new skills and then finish what they start
It is a natural tendency of people to leave things when it starts becoming tough. It is the same for children. You must encourage your children to finish what they start. Be it learning to swim, learning a new language, finishing a story, reading a book. This has a 2-fold impact:
One, finishing a task gives a sense of accomplishment which in turn boosts self-esteem
Two, not completing something simply because it has become tough, or sticking to it and completing it, becomes a habit. They will carry it into their adult life and if they are in the habit of sticking to a task and completing it, it is a sure-shot way to succeed.
4. What to do when they fail?
Failure and dealing with failures in the right way is most important to build self-esteem. Many parents if their children fail in some activity it will lower their self esteem, but it is just the opposite. Failures are very important. What is equally important is how you, as a parent, react to your children’s failure.
Be sure to make it very clear that your love is unconditional. You will love and support them whether they fail or succeed. You will love them even if they make bad decisions. This is the most important.
The second thing is that you help them analyze what went wrong, what they could have done differently. Give them clear feedback. Help them understand what they should avoid, what they should focus on to be successful next time. Your role here is to help them reach the answers themselves. Ask questions, listen to them as they analyze what happened. Let them reach the conclusions themselves. You just have to nudge them in the right direction.
5. Never criticize very harshly
Criticizing your children can have a very negative impact on their self-esteem. That does not mean you don’t have to correct them when they are wrong. It is important to note that you only criticize their behavior not them. If they cannot solve a math problem because they are not paying proper attention, you should not say “You are stupid. Pay attention.” Instead try taking a deep breath and say firmly “You are not understanding because you are being inattentive. I want you to pay attention now.”
If you constantly say “You are so lazy”, it won’t be a surprise if they will end up becoming lazy. Never criticize the person, only the behaviour.
Focus on their strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses.