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Strengthen your child’s self-esteem

Published 13.07.2022 - Produced by Produced by Produced by the parenting experts of Väestöliitto - The Family Federation of Finland , the Central Union for Child Welfare and the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters , Family Federation of Finland , Family Federation of Finland
Good self-esteem will help a child throughout their life. In this section, we are going to look at how you can use supportive parenting to help your child develop good self-esteem.

Self-esteem includes beliefs and feelings about whether you can influence your environment, how you feel you can cope in the face of adversity and whether you feel you can learn from your mistakes or successes.

How can you support your child’s self-esteem?

Parents’ attitudes and behaviour have a strong influence on the development of young children’s self-esteem.
Here are some tips for parents:

  • Show your child affection and love. Smile, hug and cherish your child.
  • Show an interest in what your child is interested in. Ask them about their toys, games or friendships. Support their play. If your child wants to watch cartoons, join in and be curious about what fascinates them about the programme.
  • Encourage and praise them and show your appreciation of them. Praise and comment on your child’s efforts and trying and whenever they succeed at different tasks. Help them feel special and valued. Focus on your child’s strengths, not their weaknesses. Pay attention to what your child does well and enjoys and make sure they have the opportunity to develop this skill. This makes it easier for the child to feel good about themselves, even if they experience disappointment in other areas.
  • Notice if your child has misbeliefs or misconceptions about themselves. Help them think positively and support them in changing their negative thoughts into more positive ones. Sometimes a 5-year-old, for example, may experience frustration when learning something new. They may say things like “I’m no good”, “I’m never going to learn this” or “everyone else is good at this except me.”
  • Give your child constructive feedback on their behaviour. Avoid criticism that could cause shame. When you give feedback, give it on the child’s behaviour, not on their personality. The messages that children hear about themselves from others translate into their experience of themselves. That’s why statements like “you’re lazy” are damaging. For that reason, be tactful when giving feedback to your child. Try to think and word clearly what you would like them to do next time.
  • Help and support your child to learn problem-solving and decision-making skills. Notice and praise them when they find a solution on their own. Let your child seek a solution and make mistakes. Help them as needed.
  • Support your child in their independence and in trying new things. As the child learns to be more independent, their experience of coping will become stronger. Sometimes it can be hard for a parent to see their child growing up and no longer needing them. However, it’s in your child’s best interests to gradually learn to manage independently.
  • Support your child in setting realistic goals. Help them put their failures into perspective and find meaning in their attempts, not just their successes. Children learn new things at every age. Even as a baby, a child learns to grasp things and a toddler learns to walk while holding on to furniture. Later, skills such as learning to get dressed, ride a bike and eventually to read will become important. When a child masters something, it gives them great pleasure. You can support your child’s learning by showing them how to do something and helping them at first. After that, you can do it by praising their efforts and encouraging them to do it themselves.

“You’re working really hard to learn to ride a bike, Daddy is very proud of you.”

“Have you noticed how much better you’ve got at getting dressed, you’re making great progress. You deserve applause for that.”

“Mummy is happy to see you practise eating by yourself, you’re doing really well.

  • Be a positive role model. Set your child an example of valuing, loving and taking care of yourself too. Don’t belittle yourself in front of or in the presence of your child. Talk about yourself with kindness. Your child will learn from you that self-care is important.
  • Create a warm and loving home environment for your child. If a child feels unsafe at home, they will not be able to develop good self-esteem.
  • Show your child that you can laugh at yourself. Show them that life doesn’t always have to be so serious. Laughter, humour and smiling not only improve your mood, but also ease your stress, boost your energy and reduce anger and anxiety.

Support your child’s friendship skills

The attention and love of caring adults is paramount for a young child. As the child grows, friends become more and more important. Friendships and the acceptance of other children shape a child’s self-concept. Lack of friendships or difficulties in making friends cause loneliness and suffering for children. Parents can support their children’s friendship skills, and their skills in making friends. The younger the child, the more important the support of an adult is.

Making and maintaining friends is not necessarily easy for children. To make friendships work, they need the following skills, which they can practise with a parent’s help and with other children:

  • Introducing themselves
  • Greeting someone
  • Listening
  • Thanking others
  • Apologising
  • Praising others
  • Helping others
  • Taking turns and giving others a turn
  • Suggesting, for example, a game and making the first move
  • Responding positively to someone else making the first move
  • Asking someone to join in the game
  • Letting someone else join in the game
  • Sharing toys
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Inviting others to join in

If a child hasn’t learned enough friendship skills, playing together with others can be challenging. The child may also be shy about joining a group, in which case they will need their parent’s support in finding ways to join in and to overcome their anxiety.

Parents can practise play skills with their child, for example using soft toys. A parent can teach their child how to ask to join in a game in a real-life situation. The parent can also model it while playing with the child.

Tips on how to join in in a game:

  • You can first guide your child to watch other children’s activities
  • Then they can ask, “Can I come and play with you?” or “Which toy can I play with?”
  • You can also help your child to understand that sometimes someone might want to play alone: “Okay, can I join you later? Do you want to play with me later?”

Give children positive feedback when they behave in a kind and friendly way. You and your child can choose a few skills at a time that they can practise with you. It’s also important for the child to have opportunities to play with other children in a supervised way, with a parent at hand to help them resolve any conflicts and to support them in learning friendship skills. It’s a good idea for a parent to organise visits with other families so that the children can practise their friendship skills. You can organise some guided activities that the visiting child might like. You can think about what this activity might be together with your child. If the children start to argue and make a lot of noise, it’s a good idea to take a break or do something under an adult’s guidance. It’s best to keep such visits nice and short to begin with.

 

Sources:

Webster-Stratton, C. (2006). The Incredible Years: A Trouble-Shooting Guide for Parents of Children Aged 2–8 Years. Publisher: The Incredible Years.

Triple P – Positive Parenting Program.

Helping young children develop self-esteem -fact sheets for families.

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