Ten Parenting Practices That Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Ten Parenting Practices That Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

After jumping down from a  tree at the park my son stood up, did a little victory dance and then ran off to play on an obstacle course. It’s a pretty tricky course that requires balance, agility and coordination. It looked like it would take him a while to have it mastered.

Sure enough my son struggled for a while. I saw him fall and get stuck many times but eventually he completed the course.Then he came running to tell me about his adventures. He was excited, recalling many details, like a rope that caught his shoe and a scary moment when he struggled to clip the safety.  But one thing he said stood out to me the most.
“I almost fell down like a hundred times mom, and then I finally figured out the whole thing. It was kind of tough. But it was awesome!” 

“I saw you!” I told him smiling. It was nice to see this budding confidence coming through, especially because in the toddler years, he was often very frustrated when things didn’t really go his way.

Self-Esteem: It’s Important For Healthy Development

Children with positive self-esteem tend to recognize their abilities and feel proud about what they are able to. When a child’s self-esteem is positive and well balanced, they aren’t afraid of making mistakes because they recognize within themselves the ability to try again (or to quit because it feels right to do so).  Most of all, they are able to manage worries,  frustrations and the learning process pretty well. Especially when parents are able to encourage and support them along the way.

The way we parent and communicate with our children can certainly have an impact on their self-esteem. There are parenting practices we can strive towards that can help our children maintain (and boost) a positive sense of self.

Here are Ten parenting practices that promote healthy self-esteem:

1. Use Encouraging words: It’s tempting to shout out “You are amazing! You are so smart!” When you notice your child doing something well. But this puts all the focus on outcomes. Self-esteem is actually reinforced when children feel confident in their abilities, even when things are tough. Encouraging words help children stay the course. It might sound like:

  •  “You fell but you kept going.”
  • “You weren’t sure and then I saw you figure it out.”
  • “Not yet, it’s true, you haven’t been able to finish yet.”

2. Welcome boredom into your home: It’s really OK for kids to feel like they have nothing to do, and to feel like they are bored. When boredom shows up, children start to get creative. They tap into their inner resources, discover their interests and learn to rely on their own abilities.  Allow for plenty of (screen free) unstructured time for your child every day. Even better if you can get them outdoors!

3. Validate feelings without eliminating every obstacle: Every child will face struggles and challenges as they grow. It’s tempting to brush these off or to rescue our children to lessen their burden but this isn’t helpful at all. In fact not letting children face obstacles is worse.

Jane Nelsen D.Ed. and Author of the Positive Discipline Series reminds us of how important it is not to rescue our children from their struggles with this anecdote:

A little boy was watching a butterfly try to break out of the chrysalis. As he watched the butterfly struggle, he felt sorry for it. So he decided to help. He broke open the chrysalis and was so delighted to see the butterfly soar into the sky. But then he watched in horror as it fell to the ground, because the butterfly had not developed it’s muscles.

So, when your child is struggling, try to validate and listen. Have faith that your child will be able to feel a full range of emotions and get through their feelings. You can give them space or stay close and listen. If they are open to it, help problem solve. Just avoid rescuing or shutting down feelings.

4. Teach Self-Care skills: Children are very capable,  especially when we allow them to develop skills gradually. Without expectations that are set too high. Show your child how to care for their body, belongings and home. Allow your child to participate in tidying up the house, cleaning their rooms and helping with other life skills such as cooking, writing a shopping list and so on.  Self-esteem really starts with knowing you are able to care for yourself, so allow your child to be an activate participant in their care from the very start.

Related reading: Giant List of Self-Care Skills for Children 

5. Listen: Children need someone to listen to them so they know their voice matters. Strive to make time to be together each day so you can listen to your child talk about accomplishments, fears, worries, ideas and more.  A fun way to do this is to end each day with a game of Highs / Lows where you invite your child to tell you some of her favorite and least favorite moments of the day. You can take it a step forward and ask your child how they might change those least favorite moments if they had a do-over.

6. Acknowledge Worries: It’s pretty normal for children to have worries and anxieties. When a child feels like her worries are being understood she is better able to deal with them and move forward. So, try not to dismiss worries and instead acknowledge them. It might sound like “You aren’ t sure if you can do it? Did I understand you?” Or “This is really worrying you. Want to tell me more?” Talking about worries and feeling acknowledged is an opportunity for a child to find and use her inner resources as well.

7. Have Courage & Be Kind: Our children really are watching us and reflecting on the choices that we make. So face your own obstacles, fears and worries with courage. Be kind to yourself, don’t speak badly about your failures or general abilities. Highlight the good and how you worked things out.  Of course it’s ok to be authentic and admit defeat, but strive to do so with general compassion and kindness towards yourself.  I would encourage you to remember that what you are modeling makes a big impact on your child. You might think you are not good enough, but your child really does look up to you.

8.Welcome mistakes and imperfections: Sometimes we have to try, and try again. Chances are you and your child will both make many mistakes along the way. See these as opportunities to learn, to persevere or to know when to quit and move on. Each mistake can be a chance to learn something new, or at the very least to model what it takes to problem solve.

9. Spend time together: Play, fun and laughter are incredibly powerful ways to connect to your child’s heart and mind. Seize the opportunities that you have to enjoy each other. Children that feel connected to their parents feel good about themselves. (I know parenting is not all sunshine and rainbows  – there are many challenging moments but I cannot stress enough how important it is to make time for play and laughter. This practice has tremendous potential to reduce stress, misbehavior and increase your child’s well-being.

10. Use connected, positive discipline: When your child is having a hard time listening, following rules and not cooperating, skip blame and punishments. Focus on working together, on understanding the root of the problem, setting limits well and being present. A respectful, kind and clear approach to discipline helps your child feel secure, loved and understood. A great mix for growing up with a healthy and with balanced self-esteem.

self-esteem children (1)

What other practices might you add to this list?

Do you worry that your child struggles with low self-esteem? Come chat in the Positive Parenting Q & A group or leave a comment.

Peace & Be Well,

Ariadne

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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

14 Responses to Ten Parenting Practices That Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem

  1. Love the positive approach to helping your child feel understood. I’m not always great at this, but I always notice the positive effects when I do. It’s a positive feedback loop in action and it’s very encouraging. Also, I just saw your book about alternatives to time out, which I’m very curious about. Must look into this!

    • Hi Tara, yes when children feel understood or at least get a sense that we are willing to try they feel so much more secure and willing to cooperate. It’s a beautiful process, sometimes it’s not so clear what they need from us, but the truth is as long as we are trying the best we can to figure it out it works so well. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  2. This is great advice. I wonder how you might expand it to when your child’s feelings are irrational? For instance, if your child is afraid of monsters in their room. How do you balance validating the feelings (so as not to shut them down) while also helping them to learn that their fears are unfounded?

    • Hello Rachelle,
      I love your question, in fact I have been working on an article about fears and helping children deal with them. So, irrational fears are techinically only irrational to us and not to our kids. It might sound strange but it’s basically because we have life experience and wisdom that helps us make a better judgement call about the situation. Fear is actually a protective instinct and when children are convinced there is danger ( be it a monster in the cupboard or ghosts in the garden or the idea that the tree stump is WAY to high up even if it’s just a few short centimiters from the ground) something in the child’s mind has activated the fear switch. And we can’t just shut if off for our kids – they need to find the courage and safety to shut it down internally. If we dismiss their fear, they become confused as they are receiving a mixed message. If we validate “this feels scarry to you” or “you are worried about this” we help them listen to the message and start to make sense of it. Validating does not mean to agree but rather to let the child know you understand what they are telling you. “You wish the room didn’t seem so scarry. So what would help you?” this is validation + a chance to problem solve. It’s not always convenient but it’s certainly worthwhile as children grow with a sense that they can trust their body and trust you to help them find safety and security. Hope that helps!

    • Tamara, yes you are so right, it’s not always easy to pause the laundry, dishes and cooking to have fun with your kids. Sometimes combining the two works 🙂 This evening my kids and I did the dishes with Disco music on and it was great fun – a bit too much water splashed on the kitchen floor but great fun!

  3. This is great site for parents and family especially for new parents. many thanks for sending me. All the best with your great work may God bless.

  4. Thank you so much this article was exactly what I needed at this moment earlier tonight my very emotional13 year old came up to me worried about starting high school plus still being upset about bullying issues from a year ago. I hate for him to keep holding on to these past problems and I want him to focus on the good and happy moments in life

  5. hello
    i am a young mom. my daughter is month years old and she find hard to walk, she is very afraid, she wants always my finger to be sicure and to walk whith. i would know your advise please.

    thank you

    all the best

    • Hi Vilma,
      I didn’t quite understand how old your daughter is, but learning to walk takes some practice – until 16 to 18 months it can be normal for children to not be 100% secure. A good thing to do is provide a safe area for her to practice like a grassy filed or a room with some protective mats (not too soft) and let her explore her surroundings. If you are still unsure I would ask your pediatrician to evaluate her progress. best wishes!

  6. hello
    i am a young mom. my daughter has 15 months and she find hard to walk, she is very afraid, she wants always my finger to be secure and to walk whith. i would know your advise please.

    thank you

    all the best

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