Ways to Build Self Esteem

By Jennifer Gibson, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Often times, parents share with me that they are unsure how to build self-esteem in their children or that they are concerned about their children’s self-esteem.  Once the holiday season has passed and the last half of the school year is underway, some space to explore and focus on these issues can become available.  Here are some ideas for ways to build self-esteem in your children as we look to the second half of the school year.

  1. Ask for their input when appropriate. When we ask our children for their input, they learn that their ideas and opinions are valued.  Further, when we validate that their ideas were helpful or that their opinions are interesting, they internalize a sense of importance, which helps build self-esteem.  Appropriate input might include helping to plan activities for the upcoming weekend or helping to make dinner choices.  This is important for younger children as well, where choices can be presented to them and they give their input that way.

  1. Encourage responsibility. Children thrive on knowing they are trusted by their parents.  Creating opportunities where they can be helpful to you encourages greater self-esteem in them.  Opportunities such as, helping with the garbage inside or outside of the house, getting the mail, or helping with yard work are all possibilities for encouraging this.  Younger children may be able to help with laundry or watering plants. Not only does this encourage self-esteem in your children as they gain a sense of competence and responsibility, but it also enhances parent trust and dependability in their children.  Equally important to providing opportunities for your children to enhance their sense of importance is your response to them when they help out.  Be careful only to instruct when teaching a task and be careful not to criticize.  Criticism may work against building self-esteem in your children.  And as simple as it is to give praise for hard work and helping, we often forget.  Giving praise can be the single most effective response we can give to our children to encourage them and it is so easy to do! 

  1. Address negative comments children make toward themselves effectively. If you notice your children make negative comments about themselves, ask them about it.  It is natural to want to respond with a counterargument, but this is not helpful; your children have already developed their negative idea.  Instead, be empathic toward them and express your remorse that they feel that way, then be curious about their comment, reflect their thoughts back to them, and share a time when you felt that way.  It is important to stay away from debating their feelings with them or presenting contradictory evidence, and rather, understand where they are coming from, connect with them on their experience, and begin generating ideas for how to move on from the comments or situation and feel better about themselves.  It can be helpful to share a time when you felt that way and how you moved on from it and learned to feel better about yourself and/or the situation.  At the end of your discussion, ask how they feel and what they think about their negative comment then.  This will help your children see how different they think and feel after your discussion.  When your children have had these discussions with you, these discussions become examples for the future when your children may struggle again; they have personal experience overcoming negative thoughts about themselves and they have experience that the negative comments are not always valid.  If you have had these discussions with your children over time and they do not seem to help or do not seem effective, it may be time to seek guidance from a professional to understand if there is a greater issue that your children are struggling with that is beyond what typical parenting can address.

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