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?
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.
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?
- 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.”
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.”
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.
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.