One of the best gifts we can give our children is a strong sense of self esteem. Research shows that self esteem is closely linked to our children’s happiness, but how to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence and what kinds of things can you as parents do to ensure your children grow up feeling confident and capable?
Although you may be tempted to praise the products of your child’s achievements, like the beauty of a drawing, or their brilliance at adding numbers together, this kind of achievement praise can actually undermine your efforts in how to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence, because you risk bringing up children who think that your love is conditional on their achievements (1).
It is also important to try not to praise qualities of children that are not in their control, and may be fleeting like intelligence, prettiness or athleticism. They may base their sense of self worth on these innate ‘talents’ and when they grow older, or lose those talents, they will feel unworthy (1).
There are forms of praise that can stimulate the development of self esteem, however. If you praise the effort that went into a result, or other factors within a child’s control, like persistence, creativity or hard work, they will learn that they can achieve whatever they set out to do with hard work and persistence (1).
Furthermore, children who believe they can achieve results with hard work and practice enjoy their activities more and are more likely to be successful than those who believe that it is possible through some innate talent. It is possible to instill this in your child with one particular line of praise: “You did really well on X, you must have worked really hard” (2).
How to build a child’s self-esteem and confidence – Mastery and self esteem
More important than praise though is the opportunity to succeed and fail in life’s challenges. Mastery of a skill is the real self esteem builder. Give your child lots of opportunities to master new skills. For children under four, almost everything they do is new and an opportunity to learn mastery. They are learning to crawl, walk, feed and dress themselves, use the toilet and ride a tricycle. It is important to try and step back and let your child do it for themselves (3).
Although it might be difficult to watch your child struggle with a new skill, she or he will have the opportunity to feel so ultimately rewarded at finally mastering the skill through practice. This will set them up for life with a ‘can-do’ attitude and the motivation to try to succeed in life.
1. Bob Murray, PhD, (2006). Raising an Optimistic Child: A Proven Plan for Depression-Proofing Young Children – for Life. McGraw-Hill.
2. Christine Carter, PhD, (2012). Teaching happiness–positive emotions are skills to be learned: an interview with Christine Carter, PhD.(Interview): An article from: Camping Magazine.
3. Edward Hallowell, MD, (2003). The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. Ballantine Books.