Three things to stop & start doing to build kids' self-esteem

Feb 05, 2024

As parents, we want our kids to have healthy self-esteem, but what can we do to help foster and build self-esteem in our kids?  

Self-esteem is a tricky subject for many parents.  Our first instincts are typically to praise their achievements, help them through challenging situations by sharing different ideas on how they can best handle them, and tell them how we want them to think and feel about themselves whenever they say something derogatory about themselves.  Unfortunately, our natural instincts can have us doing things that hinder instead of helping build our child's self-esteem.  

Here are three things to stop doing, and three things to start doing to help foster and build self-esteem in your kids.

1. Stop praising for achievements only, and start affirming worthiness for who they are.

When parents praise kids for achievements only, kids can become dependent upon their performance for their self-esteem.  This can make them afraid of making mistakes, and make them beat themselves up when they don’t do something well because their self-worth and how they feel about themselves is tied to their doing well.  It can also have them doing things they don’t necessarily want to because they think how we feel about them is tied to what they do, not who they are.

Consider telling your kids:
You’re a daughter/son/brother/sister/member of our family/cousin/friend and that’s enough.
You don’t need to prove anything to me.
I love you and you are worthy and amazing just the way you are.

2. Stop telling your kids how to fix things that may not be going well and stop fixing things for them, and start asking how they might go about fixing things themeselves and what ideas they may have.

Yes, kids need parents to help guide them in making good decisions — but when we are always telling them how to do things or doing it for them, we send the message that we don’t believe they can do it on their own.

Instead, consider asking them questions like:
What do you think you should do?
How can you figure this out?
How do you think you can make things better?

If they respond by telling you “I don’t know” (which they most likely will), give them a little push by asking the following:
But what if you had to guess, what’s just one thing you might do?
Now that you’re guessing, any other ideas?

3. Stop telling your kids how to think and feel about themselves, and start trying to empathize and understand instead.

If your child says I’m so stupid, is your first instinct to tell them that they’re not stupid and point out how smart they are?  When we hear our kids say negative things about themselves, we can respond by telling them how we want them to think and feel about themselves instead.  This is a completely normal and understandable response, but it can leave our kids feeling unheard, unseen, and misunderstood.

If a child’s feelings are dismissed, ignored or talked away, they learn to ignore their feelings and they stop listening to what’s going on inside of them.  Kids won’t feel worthy of having their own feelings if they’re not given a space to actually have them.

Instead, consider just responding with something like this:
Wow, sounds like you’re really frustrated.
Hmmm…  that sounds tough.
I wonder what makes this so hard.

Then stop and wait.  Know up front that you’re going to be tempted to fill in the silence and you’re going to want to keep talking — but you want to give your child some time and space to process what you’ve said and respond.  You want them to feel seen and heard.

I invite you to try just one of these shifts this week to see how your child responds.  Please note that your child may be suspicious at first if these responses are completely different from how you typically respond.  If that’s the case, please don’t give up and keep trying!  The more you ask and listen instead of tell, the more likely they are to trust you and open up to you.

If you want to know more about how you can help build and foster healthy self-esteem in your kids, please just us in the Confident Parenting Club this month where we’re doing a deep dive on building self-esteem and resilience, strategies for when your kids fail at something, how to combat negative self-talk and help your kids tame the self-talk monster, and what to do and say when your kids compare themselves to other kids and find themselves coming up short.

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