Child therapist Dr Tanya Byron shares her tips on boosting your child’s self-esteem
As a parent you want to help your child develop in the best way possible. You encourage them to learn to read and write, promote good behaviour and try to provide interesting and stimulating experiences.
This is all good stuff, but actually the most important aspect of child development is that your child learns to like and value themselves. Good self-esteem makes for an optimistic, positive, courageous and happy child because you’ve taught them to have positive beliefs about their life. So how can we do this?
1. Give praise
We all love to know when we have achieved something, and for your child, positive feedback is an important part of development. Encourage your child through difficult tasks and praise them enthusiastically for each small achievement. Celebrate the fact that they’re learning a new skill, even if they can’t do everything – managing to fasten one button on their coat is an important step towards learning to dress themselves. Help them understand that making an effort can be just as valuable as achieving a result.
2. Your time
Carving out time to spend with your child gives them a powerful message about how much you value them, while also giving you both space to develop your relationship. Turn off your phone, forget about work – or the million other household tasks – and get to know your child by sharing some uninterrupted time together.
3. Playing together
Play is vital for your child’s emotional, social, psychological and behavioural development, and playing together will strengthen your bond and make them feel special. Let your little one decide which games you play. Listen to them and give a running commentary of everything you are doing, so they feel they have your full attention.
4. Respect individuality
Think about the things you love about your child – their special qualities and uniqueness. Celebrate these qualities and resist the urge to compare them to other children. Your child may not have been the first to walk, talk or read but they might have the brightest smile, the cheekiest grin or the sweetest singing voice – let them know that.
5. Boost independence
Enable your child to feel more confident about themselves by helping them become more independent. Give them choices so they feel they have some control over the world. When shopping, let them choose their shampoo or what to have for dinner. It makes them feel special and important, and builds confidence.
6. Set boundaries
Help your child feel confident by setting up routines and boundaries around their behaviour. Children like to know where they stand and what is expected of them, so be consistent when their behaviour starts to become difficult. Remain calm but firm in your response and use a consequence if necessary. As soon as the difficult moment has passed, praise them at the first opportunity – never hold a grudge.
7. Understand them
It’s normal for a toddler or preschooler to find the world annoying and difficult at times. However trivial their frustration or sadness may seem to you, these feelings are important to them. Listen to their concerns, then offer cuddles and reassurance. If you can, help them find other ways to deal with the problem through calm encouragement.
8. Don’t label
It is easy to label our children and put them into categories – ‘She’s my angel but he’s my problem child’. If you do this you run the risk of the self-fulfilling prophecy, which means if you have strong attitudes towards a child, you will find they will behave in that way because of the signals you are giving off to them. Focus on the positives and celebrate all their wonderful behaviour – this way, you’ll get more from them and your child will feel much more positive about themselves.
9. Provide stimulation
Children learn by doing and, like little sponges, soak up all experiences available to them. So, plan activities together – get them outdoors exploring, climbing and running, and cook, draw and read together. Help them to learn to take healthy risks, like climbing a tree, so they realise they can conquer anxiety and achieve.
10. Unconditional love
To be able to value ourselves, we have to feel valued. For a child, the simplest and most effective way is through the warmth, love and affection they receive from us. Don’t just praise them when they’ve achieved something – get into the habit of praising, hugging and kissing them randomly throughout the day to show them how special they are.
Feeling good about yourself is an essential part of surviving life’s ups and downs. We all have times when we feel on top of things but there are also those times when we can feel overwhelmed. One of the key factors that will influence how well we cope in times of trouble will be our feelings of worth and our self-esteem. Give your child the best chance to succeed in life by helping them recognise how important and special they are – because they really are!
If you liked this, read more about preschool development in How to answer your child’s awkward questions.