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How to Increase Your Child's Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Raising resilient and positive children by fostering their development of self-esteem and self-worth.

Self-esteem is essential for healthy development in children. Without positive self-esteem, children do not grow in the most optimal manner or develop a healthy and accurate sense of self. A child’s positive sense of self-worth acts as armor protecting the child from inevitable challenges in life. Having positive self-esteem leads to positive views about the self, others, and the greater world.

In order to understand how to develop your child’s self-esteem, we must first define what self-esteem actually is. Self-esteem, similar to self-worth, is essentially the esteem in which one holds oneself- or how much we value our own worth or self. Children with healthy self-esteem view themselves as worthy, loveable, and valuable- not better than or above others. Self-esteem is measured within, and is not a way we compare ourselves to peers.

Children with a healthy sense of self-esteem are more resilient and are able to bounce back from adversity without it affecting their overall view of themselves. These children are able to handle conflicts and frustrations because their sense of worth and positive self-esteem bolsters their ability to stick with things when the going gets tough.

Children with low self-esteem struggle to view themselves as worthy and often have a hard time finding solutions to their concerns because they do not think they are capable of handling the situation. Children with low self-esteem may go on to develop symptoms of frustration, anxiety, or depression as they do not develop the coping skills to work through problems they face. In order to help these children get rid of their critical thoughts about themselves, we must build them up from the inside and foster their sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

How to Increase Your Child’s Self-Esteem

1. Focus on encouragement.

At HeadFirst Counseling, we are big on encouragement. Encouragement differs from praise as it focuses on the effort, not the outcome. Statements such as “Great job!” or “Perfect!” focus on the outcome rather than acknowledging the effort that the child put into the task. Praise usually also only comes when a child does something exactly the way you want them to, which increases the child’s tendency to rely on external praise and rewards. Encouragement, on the other hand, fosters a child’s internal motivation. Statements such as “You worked really hard on that” or “You added lots of colors to that drawing” focus on the effort and attention the child gave to a task. Labeling the effort allows the child to feel good about the work they did. When children feel encouraged, they are more likely to stick with a task and keep working hard despite being challenged. When children only receive praise, they are more likely to give up when they struggle because they are afraid of letting others down. This then leads to a negative view of self and low self-esteem.

2. Challenge your child’s inaccurate beliefs.

Children with low self-esteem with often make statements along the lines of “I’m dumb,” “I can’t do it,” or “I’m a bad kid.” Children with low self-esteem have a tendency to extend their frustrations and challenges to all parts of themselves, rather than just the specific task as hand. As a parent, an important job for you is to challenge or correct these statements when you hear them. Reflecting back to your child that they are struggling with this one particular task but are still loveable and a good kid helps your child separate their current feelings from their overall sense of self. When your child is struggling with homework and states “I can’t do math. I’m dumb!” try redirecting them by stating “You are struggling with this one problem and it’s really hard for you. I know you have worked through difficult math problems before, so let’s keep working.”

3. Create an accepting and loving home environment.

The sense of feeling loved and supported by others increases our own sense of self-worth. When children receive messages of love and acceptance from parents, they mirror that by viewing themselves as loveable and worthy and begin to increase their self-esteem. Show as much positive affection as possible to your children (there is no such thing as too much love!!) through hugs, kisses, smiles, and other comforting touch. Positive and loving interactions between children and parents enable children to feel more connected to parents. The more connected your child feels to you, the safer they feel to try new things as they know they can count on your support if needed. Believing that it is ok to struggle and fail sometimes because you will love them no matter what encourages healthy development of self-esteem within your child.

When to Seek Help

Children that have a pervasive sense of failure or often state that they are “bad” may have very negative self-esteem and low self-worth and could benefit from therapy. Therapy helps children develop a more positive view of self as they are able to develop greater coping skills and a more realistic view of themselves and the environment. Giving children the opportunity to use therapy to process and release their negative feelings about themselves allows them to begin working on developing a greater sense of self-worth and increase their self-esteem.

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