Many parents worry about their child's level of self-esteem. It's natural to be concerned if your child has a habit of putting themselves down. Or, you may have a child who won't try new things because they're afraid to fail.
One parent I know became frustrated because her younger son refused to learn to ride the bike he had been bought for his birthday. He had seen his older brother having fun on his 'big boy' bike, and wanted to be like him but when it came down to it he knew it wasn't going to be easy, and just could not summon up the courage to try. The fear of failure can be strong.
There's no getting away from it though, it is tough out there for kids these days.
When they leave the cozy, protective world of home and preschool or nursery, there are huge challenges. Not only do they have to learn so many new things formally, but there is learning that goes on in the playground—a place where making and breaking up with friends, finding new friends, and knowing what to do and how to handle it when things are not going well, are all necessary skills no one really teaches you.
Self-esteem can be very fragile, and having the resilience to bounce back after a setback, or to keep trying even though it is difficult, or to get up when you have been knocked down, are big asks of all of us really, adults and children alike.
What you can do to nurture your child's self-esteem
1. Be a positive role model
Make sure your child spends plenty of quality time with an adult who listens, really cares and gives praise and encouragement. It's also important to allow for mistakes to be made, have reasonable expectations and encourage independence. We can teach problem-solving skills to set children up to succeed at least some of the time. While these are all very beneficial, the importance of modelling good self-esteem so that your child can see it first hand, is often not given enough emphasis.
You are a very important role model for your child. Children absorb so much from watching others. If they see a parent putting themselves down or brushing away praise or being self-critical, that is likely to become the behavior that they adopt. If you do this frequently, you may be inadvertently 'teaching' your child that thinking and speaking well of yourself is not a good thing to do.
2. Big yourself up
Talk about your successes, however small, and tell your children what you have done that you are proud of. If you have had a go at something, maybe it was a job interview or you tried to learn something new and challenging, talk about what went well instead of focusing on what did not go so well.
Instead of saying, "Some of the questions the interviewer asked were really hard to understand and I kept having to ask him to repeat things. I felt like I didn't prepare as good as I should have," say something like, "There were a few questions I did not really understand, but when that happened I asked the interviewer to repeat the question for me and gave the best answer I could."
Or, instead of,"I thought singing would be easy, but now I realize that my voice isn't that good after all," say, 'Well that was more of a challenge than I thought it would be, but I'm going to try again—it will be fun to see if I can get the hang of it."
This may be easy for some people, but it certainly doesn't come naturally to everyone. And that's okay—it's likely something inherent that you've learned in the past. As children, we are often taught not to boast or show off. Talking about ourselves constantly, and all the amazing things we have done can be a bit of a turn off to others.
3. Teach confidence, not bragging
There is a difference between someone who likes to show off all the time and to give the impression that they are better than everyone else, and someone who is quietly confident in themselves and does not shy away from saying so. If you pay someone like this a compliment, they will not shrug it off and say, "Oh it was nothing," but will accept your approval and thank you for it.
We can adjust how we respond to compliments and teach our kids how to be confident in ourselves rather than bragging. You can even call out the difference between the two in shows or movies that you watch together.
If your child is finding something difficult, consider how it would feel to hear them say, "It's so hard, but I think I can work out a way to do it, I'm just going to keep trying."Where does a 'can do' attitude like this come from? Some of it at least will be from you.
Life is full of challenges and disappointments, and to be able to ride through the turbulent times and come out the other side without being swallowed up, is easier if you have good, strong healthy self-esteem and an intrinsic faith in yourself. The seeds for this are sown in childhood.