How to Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem
Dear Coach Deborah,
“My child seems to suffer from low self-esteem. He doesn’t think he’s good at anything, mostly because other children tell him so. I want to encourage him, but I don’t want to give him empty or false praise for things that may not be a natural fit for him.
Can you offer any suggestions on how to encourage him to build up genuine self-esteem?”
Signed, Encouraging Mom
Hello Encouraging Mom,
First of all, kudos to you for reaching out and sharing your experience. I know this will help others.
As our children grow and head to school, camp, sports teams and other outlets, they are bound to face rejection or teasing from their peers. And unfortunately, there is no ointment or Band-aid we can use to make that “boo-boo” go away. But what we can do is to remind them of the things they are good at.
We know that children can be blunt, with very little tact. So here are a few things I would suggest you try:
1. Praise specific behavior when you see it.
“Thank you for sharing with your brother. You are so patient, and I really appreciate that.” Or “Great idea to stack the books that way, you’re super creative!” Choosing a specific thing to focus on instead of the generic “Good job” can make it more meaningful.
2. Be a good role model.
Celebrate the differences that we all share and don’t require him to be like a sibling, cousin or friend. Share what you love about people being different and having different skills, likes and dislikes.
3. Don’t make “perfect” the goal.
Maybe you’ve heard the term “progress over perfection.” As each of us learns a new thing, it takes time to grow and get better. Notice the growth, the improvement or the progress. That’s what matters most.
4. If he’s old enough, help him find the language to express himself.
Consider role-playing with him about what happened and who said what. It may not be 100% accurate, but it will give an idea of what happened and, more importantly, how it made him feel. Then, see if together you can both come up with other options. Is there another friend group he can play with? Is there an appropriate response that might end the negative comments altogether?
One thing is for sure, celebrating who he is as a person and not only what he does or accomplishes is one way to build self-esteem. He’s figuring it out and he’s fortunate to have you as his mom navigating it with him.