3 WAYS TO HELP BOOST YOUR CHILD’S SELF-ESTEEM

Building up a child’s inner confidence is part of our job as parents, caregivers, and educators. In order to properly do this, there are several things we need to be mindful of and a few things we should avoid.

I will start with the top three things we SHOULD do.

  • Focus on the positive
  • Use kind speech
  • Be ready to forgive

Focusing on the positive is first on the list of things to do to help boost your child’s self-esteem.

*Note: focusing on the positive does not AND should not mean that you can never express the negative. In life, there will consistently be both. However, if you follow these simple guidelines, it will make this process much simpler to understand and apply in to your everyday routine. So, how can we focus on the positive? What exactly does that mean? Let’s discuss a few ways.

Focusing on the positive goes hand-in-hand with positive affirmations. Why is positive affirmation so important? When a person receives a compliment, the brain, in turn, gets a “rise in dopamine.” As brought out in the linked article: “dopamine is associated with motivation, focus, and positivity.” These are all great things for children and people in general to have.

Example of using a positive affirmation/compliment to boost self-esteem: Mom is going to the grocery store. While she is buckling Hannah into her car seat, she notices that her older son, John, is buckling himself into the car without being helped. What does she do? Mom responds. “I noticed that you remembered to buckle your seatbelt all by yourself when we got into the car. That was very responsible. Good job!”

Why is this notable? Rather than taking John’s seemingly simple/small accomplishment for granted, Mom chose to capitalize on this opportunity to offer positive commendation/affirmation. By taking the initiative to reward John with praise for his task, mom has actually provided him with something crucial to his development. What is it? You guessed it- dopamine.

By taking active initiative to provide her child with this commendation, she has just given him the needed encouragement to repeat this action. What is the end result? Mom has done an excellent job in creating an incentive for John to continue practicing a healthy/positive habit. 

*Now, as mentioned before, there will be times when there will be good and bad things to mention. But how you go about expressing the negative aspects without harming your child’s self-esteem is the key. So, how can you do that?

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That brings us to kind speech. 

As you’re probably familiar with from the working world, delivering “bad” or “unpleasant” news is often best when you accompany it with good news. Sometimes, this is not an option. But most of the time, there is something you can use to your advantage. Let’s discuss a few examples.

Example of an educator in an art room, using kind speech to both commend and correct:

Mr. Mark is hosting a creative painting class. A young student has made a beautiful portrait, but also a massive mess! There is paint splattered on the floor as well as the walls. How will Mr. Mark respond?

Mr. Mark assesses the situation. He approaches the student privately and in a soft tone. “You’ve done a wonderful job using color to express yourself on this page. I’m proud of you. But, now that we’ve painted, we will need to clean up the spots that missed the page and landed on the floors and walls.”

What do we take away from this example?

Firstly, Mr. Mark spoke to the student directly instead of broadcasting the situation in front of the entire classroom. 

Next, he spoke in a “soft tone.” If you’re a parent with a teenager, or if you’ve ever been a teenager, it’s likely that you’ve heard the expression before: “It’s not what you said it’s how you said it.” This truly applies in this setting. How you say something can deeply affect both the meaning as well as how a child will respond to it.

And finally, I’ve saved the best for last. Did you notice how Mr. Mark began the conversation with his student? He did not start by reprimanding the mess. Instead, he began with praise. This is a good tactic to remember for pretty much every relationship in life… but an especially good one to remember when dealing with children. Keep in mind: children are fragile. Their brains, emotions, and bodies are still growing. So, be patient, be gentle, and always be kind.

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The third item on our agenda to boost children’s self-esteem is being ready to forgive.

What does that mean? That means mentally preparing and coming to terms with the definite knowledge that your child or student WILL make mistakes. They will do things that upset, hurt, frustrate you. But, how you respond to this can either make or break the situation- and child’s self-esteem.

So, how can you keep your cool when dealing with a potentially frustrating situation? There are a lot of suggestions out there. But the one that works best for me is very simple. Before responding in a fit of blazing anger or exasperation, I take a moment and imagine that I am that child. How would I want someone to respond to me? Was this error made with malicious intent, or was it made by pure accident? 

Each circumstance will be different from the next, which is why putting yourself into the headspace of that child is crucial to gauging how to respond correctly. 

*Admittedly, we will have moments where we make mistakes too. Maybe one of those mistakes will even be responding to a situation in a way we wish we hadn’t. So, it’s important to remember to be ready to forgive not only your children or students but yourself too. Forgiveness is a two-way street. And in order to keep that balance maintained, it takes work. Keep this question in mind: How can we offer forgiveness to others when we can’t show ourselves that same courtesy?

Tips: 

  • Be honest in both commendation and correction. Children can sense sincerity, and a way to show respect for them is by treating them with the dignity of honesty.
  • Be specific; avoid blanket statements.

Examples of using positive affirmations in a home or school setting.

#1: “I appreciate what you’ve done.”

#2: “Your participation/comments/thoughts is/are valuable to us.”

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Now for the NO-NO’s

We have gone over the things to be mindful of, and now it’s time to jump into the things we should avoid. These are known as the “NO-NO’s.” 

NO-NO #1

Avoid comparisons between children/students. No two children are the same, so it is, therefore, unreasonable to compare them to each other. Additionally, comparisons can lead to many harmful mental complexes down the road. So, do your child/student a favor and keep comparisons at bay. Remember: the only person a person should ever be compared to is the person they were yesterday. Self-reflective comparisons can actually be a very beneficial tool in helping to gauge healthy success and reach goals.

NO-NO #2

We have danced around this topic but haven’t directly addressed it yet. So, for no-no #2, we have: AVOID FOCUSING ON THE NEGATIVES FIRST. As was brought out earlier, this does not mean that you cannot tell your child when they have made a mistake. That would be an unbalanced overcorrection, which would lead to unrealistic and unhealthy habits down the road. Remember: wherever possible, practice directing your attention first to positive aspects before delivering critique or correction.

If you work to incorporate these three keys, you will be amazed at how these changes will help benefit your child’s mental health and boost their self-esteem!

For a suggested article on why to give compliments click here.

3 ways to create a healthy support system for your child

Regulating consistency can be as simple as responding to situations and actions regarding house rules, in the same way, every time. It is very important that whatever you decide on, that you maintain it. This involves setting a goal and sticking to it.

Example of NOT responding consistently to situations or actions: 

Last week, Tommy asked if he could have dessert before dinner, and the reply was, “You know the house rules. Dessert is for after dinner, only.” This week when Tommy asked the same question, the reply was different. Why is this a problem? By giving a new reply, it creates an inconsistency with the house rules stated the previous week. Children, like adults, need stability to thrive. By not following through with the guidelines that you have provided, you are depriving your child of that stability.

*Of course, in life, there will always be exceptions. Changes and unexpected circumstances are inevitable. That being said, if your routine must change, be consistent about explaining to your children the reasons why it must change, and preferably, express this change before it takes place.

Example: “Next week, when Grandma comes to visit, you will be able to have dessert before dinner. This is an exception to our house rule, and after Grandma goes back home, we will continue having dessert after dinner.”

By explaining the situation beforehand, you have acknowledged the change prior to it being made. This allows the child to anticipate it. Not only that, but you have also made the transition clear. Once Grandma goes back home, things will go back to normal. This helps the child to understand the boundaries of the house rules so that there are no uncertainties.

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Establishing trust is the cornerstone of importance when it comes to creating a healthy support system for your child.

One of the best ways you can establish trust with your child is by making sure to respect his/her preferences and boundaries. Each child is different, so each child will display his/her preferences and boundaries in different ways. 

Example of a child displaying preferences/boundaries: Father comes home from work and gently pats child’s head. The child frowns and pulls away. The father asks, “why did you pull away?” The child responds, “I don’t like when my head is touched.” The father nods, “Okay, I’ll remember that.” The following day, the father comes home from work and greets the child with a smile. Instead of touching his child, he asks, “How was your day today?” The child smiles and replies, “It was good.”

What do we learn from this scenario? 

The child is sensitive to physical touch. They displayed this by pulling away. Instead of ignoring this, the father asked a follow-up question to get further information to better understand the child’s perspective. When the child responded that they did not like their head being touched, how did the father respond? Did he force his child to conform to his own level of comfort and boundaries toward physical affection? No.

After the child expressed their boundary and level of comfort, the father took note of their preference. The following day, when he arrived home from work, he made a point of respecting his child’s boundaries. What is the result? The child now feels a level of increased comfort toward the father. By respecting his child’s sensory boundary, he has established trust.

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Another way to create a healthy support system for your child is to make yourself available. By making yourself available to your child, you show them that you value them with your time. This reassures them of their importance, not only to you but as individuals. (This also helps boost their self-esteem.)

Example of making yourself available: Mother is making dinner in the kitchen. Her son comes up to her with something important. “Mom, I need to talk to you.” “Can it wait?” Mom says. “No, I need to talk to you right now.” What do you do? 

The truth is, sometimes, the answer needs to be, “not right now.” If you are in the middle of something, like cooking dinner, and you are dealing with time-sensitive things, sometimes, you cannot provide your child with undivided attention at that exact moment. That being said, there are ways to go about this to maintain a healthy relationship with your child that both show that you value them and that their feelings and thoughts are important both to you and in general.

Example of how to respond if you CAN’T talk right now: Pause from what you are doing and give direct eye contact (in some cases, where appropriate, you can establish focus by gently placing your hands on your child’s shoulders.) “I’m very busy right now cooking. If I try to handle dinner and our discussion at the same time, I may burn the food or not be able to focus fully on what you are saying. I would like to hear what you have to say and give you my full attention. As soon as I am done here, I will sit down with you at the table, and we will talk. Okay?”

Key points about this response:

  1. Mom gave direct eye contact and focused on the child, validating their self-esteem and expressing genuine interest in what they had to say. Why is this important? Because this reassures the child that mom cares about what they have to say.
  2. Mom didn’t say, “maybe later.” Instead, she gave a definite response, “we will talk,” and she even set a specific time and location, “as soon as I’m done here, I will sit down with you at the table.” What does this do for the child? This establishes stability. They have a definite answer.
  3. And finally, mom gave an explanation as to why she could not provide undivided attention at that moment. By doing this, Mom was teaching her child that “time and place” are important and relative to sharing thoughts. This is something that all children will need to learn as they grow. By giving this explanation to your child when they are young, it will help prepare them for adulthood without inflicting damage on their self-esteem. Rather than feeling confused about why they couldn’t have their parent’s attention at that moment, they will understand that it is not personal; rather, it was simply not the right time and place.

By implementing these three things into your child’s life, it will significantly increase your child’s level of comfort and trust in their support system.