Self-esteem means liking who you are, and feeling like you’re “ok”. Having high levels of self-esteem is correlated with better outcomes in life – especially for our children. Kids with high self-esteem are more satisfied with life, have better relationships, do better in school, and are physically and mentally healthier. But this doesn’t mean that self-esteem causes these things. In fact, it could be the other way around: these things might cause self-esteem!
Here are 7 things we can say to our children to boost their self-esteem in authentic ways that support their growth and development, and encourage them to do better:
You can’t do it YET
When your child tells you that she can’t do something, remind her that everyone fails at first. Teach her the power of the word “yet”. If she crumbles in a heap, let her know it can be hard. Point out that once, she couldn’t walk or talk, but she kept on trying. By saying “yet”, we empower our children and give them hope that if they persist, they can succeed!
You look really satisfied
It can be tempting to tell our kids how proud we are of them. But this can teach them to rely on us to assess their worth. What works better is when we encourage them to self-evaluate. When they’re proud of themselves and their achievements, name their feelings. “You seem really thrilled.” “It looks like you’re feeling pretty pleased about that.” “I bet it felt great to win, or get that A”. Once they tell us how they feel, we can hug them, and reaffirm our delight as well. But let them decide whether they should be proud of themselves.
What can you do?
When things get tough and our kids want to quit, their self-esteem can take a beating. Rather than rescuing them, we can step back a little and ask “what can you do?” Or “where to from here?” This shows our child we have faith in him. We believe he can figure it out. We empower him.
I’m here for you
Studies consistently tell us that when a child knows that she is cared for, or that we will listen to her, she feels worthy and strong. Her self-esteem builds. Just being there and making sure our children know it can strengthen their sense of self.
When we stop listening and start lecturing, we disempower our children and leave them feeling bad about themselves. By offering a reassuring and supportive statement like, “I’m listening”, we show we care, we value our child, and we’ll support him.
I trust you
An old saying tells us that “it is a greater compliment to be trusted than to be loved.” When we place our trust in our children, we show that we ‘esteem’ them, and they feel trusted, worthy, and capable.
I love you
Perhaps nothing helps a child feel valuable more than knowing he or she is loved. We should tell them often. And then we should make sure we show them.
Many parents try to build their children’s self-esteem by telling them how great they are, praising them, or “pumping up their tyres” in some other way. But if our children don’t believe us, or feel that we are insincere or trying to manipulate them, they may not believe us. These 7 statements move us away from false praise, and build real self-esteem that comes from within our child rather than from outside.