Just ask any parent or teacher or administrator out there: We all want to raise children to have self-esteem and ultimately, to be healthy, responsible and productive members of society. But in the midst of many differing resources and views at our disposal – and oftentimes clamoring for our attention – we find ourselves wondering how to help children develop self-esteem. Especially when it seems difficult to find the time to fit one more thing in to the day!
Still, I believe that it is worth giving time and energy to helping our children develop self-esteem. As a Christian, I believe that it is even Biblical. (Psalm 139:14 comes to mind: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”) From a standpoint of a parent and an educator, I think that building self-esteem in a child starts with affirmation from the important adults in their lives. This affirmation should be:
- Genuine. We’ve all been able to tell when someone is half-hearted in their praise of us or others. Kids can tell, too! Make an effort to be honest with your child/students, and don’t feel compelled to say something you don’t mean in order to boost their self-esteem. If it’s hard for you to think of things to praise, set aside some time in your day or week to write down ideas. Ask your spouse or family members for ideas, or your colleagues if you are a teacher working with students.
- Clear. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Good job!” or “Way to go!” but long-term, those phrases don’t give specific feedback to your children or students. Even though it takes more effort – and possibly a little more time – look for opportunities to clearly affirm specific behavior, decisions or character traits you see in your child/student. Name and praise the exact instance of taking initiative, completing a task, demonstrating strength of character, etc.
- Frequent. No, we don’t need to give children a gold star for every little thing they do in the classroom or at home, or pat them on the back every five minutes. But we should sincerely praise them on an individual and group level with regularity. For parents, it should be on a daily basis. If it’s hard for you to remember, put a sticky note somewhere you’ll see it or program a reminder in your phone. For educators, individual affirmation will vary on the number of students you work with and will take some self-reflection – and maybe discussions with your colleagues – to come up with a frequency that works for you . Whatever that may look like, try to provide whole-group and small-group encouragement on a daily basis. Put a reminder in your lesson plans or attendance records to challenge yourself to meet this goal.
Remember that the more you practice providing genuine, clear and frequent affirmation for your child/students, the more natural it will become. And the more meaningful that affirmation will be to each child’s growing self-esteem.
I can’t end a post without a book! 🙂 For those of you who have young children or work them professionally, I highly recommend the book When I Feel Good about Myself by clinical social worker Cornelia Maude Spelman. There is a wonderful note for adults that precedes the story. The story itself has great sentence starters to encourage your child/students to express what they like about themselves. (And may give you some ideas of what things you can look to praise!)
I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about building self-esteem in children or resources you’ve found to be helpful! Please share in the comments.
Best Ages: pre-k – kindergarten