It’s one of those things that all parents want to provide for their children and one of those things that many feel they do not know how to do: raise a self-confident child. Self-esteem oftentimes seems like a fragile, distant thing that we all know what it is but don’t know how to develop. Your self-esteem is a compilation of how you feel about yourself. It encompasses everything from your confidence in relationships, to your body image, to your work life. So how do you foster this “thing” in your children?
We teach our children “honesty is the best policy.” This applies to how we deal with our children as much as it does expecting them to be honest with us. When it comes to your child’s self-esteem, he or she will know or be able to sense if you are not being honest. For example, if art is not your child’s top skill, don’t say that his or her drawing is the best you’ve ever seen. Your child will know it’s not, and will not believe you the next time you say something meant to be positive, no matter how honest it is. Instead, tell your child something genuine about the piece or the effort. Make non-judgmental statements such as, “You really used your imagination in making the flowers many different colors.” This simply states your observation, rather than a false statement.
Also, understand that your child and your child’s behavior are two separate things. This can be very hard to remember, particularly when your child is acting out in ways that make you crazy or that are unsafe. However, when you discipline your child for the behavior rather than the person, you can positively influence and foster self esteem. Why? If your child feels that you are mad, because of who he or she is as a person rather than for the behavior, this can negatively affect your child’s self-esteem. Using “I” statements helps with this. Say something like, “I don’t like it when you leave your toys scattered all over the floor,” which also addresses the behavior, rather than, “You are a slob,” which attacks their character.
Let your child make some decisions. Children are in a situation where everyone else is constantly telling them what to do, when to do it, where to go, and more. When children are allowed to make some choices, even if it’s something small, they learn to be self-reliant. You don’t want your children growing up feeling dependent on others for direction. Simple choices such as what to wear (you can offer two or three choices) or choosing a special lunch item will foster your child’s being able to think independently.
Encourage your children to try new things. While there’s nothing wrong with encouraging your child’s talents–this will help build self-confidence as well–it’s also important that your children learn to experiment. Trying new things helps everyone overcome fears of the unknown and helps us learn to deal with success and failure. If a child never learns to try new things, this can create problems later in life. After all, most people do not live in world where everything is the same day after day. Life is constantly changing, whether it’s a move to a new city or starting a new career. If children are experienced at trying new things, even if small, life’s bigger transitions will be much easier–such as leaving for college and starting a career.