By Kim DeMarchi
“How can I give my child self-esteem?”
In my family coaching practice, this is the one question that I hear more than any other. For asking about self-esteem, these parents should be applauded: After all, they want their child to feel unconditionally loved, capable in the world, and to grow up with positive self-perception.
Don’t we all want our kids to feel that way?
But the truth is that we can’t GIVE a child self-esteem—though we can take it away, quite easily, by being critical, dismissive, or negative. What moms and dads can do, however, is to provide their children with opportunities and experiences that allow the seeds of positive self-esteem to grow. Children actually develop self-esteem by struggling and sometimes falling short when they face new challenges; self-esteem, after all, depends on a child’s own internal ability to generate positive feelings about herself.
Here are 10 easy self-esteem builders you can practice in your daily life that will make your child feel valued, loved, worthy, and important.
1. Ask for her advice.
Getting dressed for work? Ask your daughter which tie you should wear. Cooking dinner? Ask her whether the family should have green beans or broccoli—and then take her advice.
What she experiences: My opinion matters to my parents, and I feel valued as a person.
2. Let him teach you something new.
Ask him how he mixed his paints, the rules for Go Fish, or how he managed to build that cool car from his Legos.
What he experiences: I really know a lot, and my mom and dad are interested in what I love.
3. Allow her to help with housework, and praise her efforts (even if the results aren’t perfect).
Watering plants, sorting laundry, rinsing dishes, unloading the grocery cart onto the conveyor belt: All these little things make positive contributions to the household. Reward her efforts with positive words and kindness.
What she experiences: Being a helpful person is appreciated—and I am an excellent helper.
4. Share your feelings (even the tough ones) and let him be there for you.
Sharing your feelings gives your child a model for talking about her own, especially if those feelings are more difficult to manage. By saying things like, I just received some sad news…can I have a hug? you are showing your child that everyone has hard days—and that’s okay, and by reaching out for love and support, your family will get through it.
What he experiences: I am a good friend, and I have the ability to make people feel better.
5. Follow her lead when you’re playing.
Whether you’re playing with mini-figures, making Play-doh cakes, or building a castle in a sandbox, let your child’s imagination lead the way. Your job? Play along according to her ideas and suggestions.
What she experiences: My ideas matter, and I can be a leader.
6. Get down to eye level when you’re talking to your children.
7. Speak in a regular tone of voice (not baby talk).
8. Listen attentively and ask follow-up questions.
(Some of my favorite conversation building phrases are “go on,” “tell me more,” and “how so?”)
9. Let your child overhear you say good things about them.
Consider the wisdom in the old adage “Praise publicly, criticize privately.”
10. Encourage your child.
You may want to print out a list of encouraging phrases and put them on your fridge. Here are a few of my favorites:
- It’s fun to play with you.
- You are kind.
- I’m glad you’re here.
- I believe in you.
- Thank you for contributing to our family.
- I’m curious what you think.
- I see you working and learning every day.
- You make me smile.
- Trust your instincts.
- How did you do that?