How to build your child's self esteem

Fostering a sense of confidence and a healthy self-image is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child from an early age. It will help them to overcome challenges, deal with emotions healthily, negotiate conflicts and resist negative influences, like peer pressure and bullies.

By being such a supportive parent for years, you’ve already given them all the love and attention they need to build their self-esteem. Here are a few tips you may find useful to continue guiding them along the way:

1.    Love and affection

You show your kids that you love them through hugs, kisses and cuddles all the time. This helps to build their self-esteem by creating the subconscious understanding that they are worthy of being loved. Bedtime makes for the best cuddles!

“A child’s need to develop a positive self image is related to self-confidence and self-esteem. Without self-confidence, children struggle to be spontaneous and creative. They may struggle with anxiety and may at times find it difficult to form meaningful relationships. Thus, low self image is often linked with social isolation, anxiety and sometimes depression.” – Simona Maraschin, an educational psychologist based in Cape Town.

2.    Play simple board or card games

Turn-taking games like these help your child learn how to play cooperatively and get along with others. It’s a good opportunity to celebrate their wins but also teach them that winning isn’t everything. This can give them the needed skills and confidence in social situations.

3.    Encourage your child to help you

Assign age-appropriate chores like setting the table, cleaning the mirror, feeding the dog or packing a family picnic. This shows your child that you trust them with responsibility, which helps them feel good about themselves.

4.    Create a family compliment chart or jar

When your child does something worthy of praise – if they treated a friend with kindness or learned to tie their shoelaces – write a note on a compliments chart or put it in a jar. Pick a day of the week and read the notes around the dinner table. It’s a fun, feel-good family moment.

5.    Be their role model

If you consistently behave in a way that shows that you are confident yet realistic about your own abilities and display your optimism for life, your children are more likely to mirror these attitudes. If you want them to cut down on screen time, be the example and spend more time outdoors and away from TV and computer screens. 

6.    Reinforce a positive mindset

It’s a great idea to talk to your kids about how they see themselves and what they feel about things such as attractiveness, perfection and ability. If you notice that they have inaccurate or negative perceptions about themselves – “I’m ugly” or “I’m so bad at reading” – try to guide them towards a more encouraging and balanced self-image by allowing them the opportunity to make choices on their own, for instance by letting them choose their own clothes. Children need to see that they can achieve on their own for it to be meaningful and for the achievement to build self-esteem. “Perfectionism” places unrealistic goals on them and may lead to feelings of sadness. Aim rather for progress – introduce the word “yet” as in “I can’t ride a bike yet” to show them that there is always the potential to grow and learn. Acknowledge your child's worth and always praise achievement. 

7.   Establish a safe environment

Listen to your children’s concerns carefully and speak to them about their hopes and fears with empathy. You’re already providing them with invaluable strength and support every day by showing them that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you are always available to talk to them, no matter what the issue may be, that you have their best interests at heart and that you are there to help them solve problems that are too big for them to tackle on their own. Remind them of all the milestones they’ve already achieved and pile on the praise – like moving from crèche to ‘big school’, moving to a new reader, their first sports day or concert, tying their shoes or learning something new.

8.    Provide constructive feedback

You have so many reasons to be proud of your children – and of yourself for raising them! Praise them often, but honestly. Encourage self-reflection and involve them in family decision-making. Allow them to pursue their own interests, solve problems independently and give them the space to take healthy risks and learn from their mistakes.

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