"As any parent knows, self-esteem is a fleeting experience," says Nelsen. "Sometimes we feel good about ourselves and sometimes we don't. What we're really trying to teach our kids are life skills like resiliency." The goal of a parent is usually to ensure that your child develops pride and self-respect — in himself and in his cultural roots — as well as faith in his ability to handle life's challenges. Here are some simple strategies to help boost your child's self-esteem:
Teach limits. Establish a few reasonable, age appropriate rules for your child. For instance, if you tell your child he has to eat his snack in the kitchen, don't let him wander around the family room with his crackers and fruit the next day. Knowing that certain family rules are set in stone will help him feel more secure. It may take constant repetition on your part, but he'll start to live by your expectations soon enough. Just be clear and consistent and show him that you trust him to do the right thing.
Let mistakes happen. Having choices and taking risks means that sometimes your child is bound to make mistakes. What valuable lessons for your child's confidence! So if your child puts his plate too close to the edge of the table and it tips, encourage him to think about what he might do differently next time. And those rare moments when you goof up yourself, own it!Acknowledging and recovering from your mistakes sends a powerful message to your child — it makes it easier for your child to accept his own shortcomings.
Resist comparisons. Comments such as "Why can't you be more like your sister?" or "Why can't you be nice like Peter?" will just remind your child of where he struggles in a way that fosters shame, envy, and competition. Even positive comparisons, such as "You're the best player" are potentially damaging because a child can find it hard to live up to this image. If you let your child know you appreciate him for the unique individual he is, he'll be more likely to value himself too.
Offer empathy. If your child compares himself unfavorably to his siblings or friends ("Why can't I catch the ball like Sadie?"), show him empathy and then emphasize one of his strengths. For instance, say, "You're right. Sadie is good at catching. And you're good at painting pictures." This can help your child learn that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that he doesn't have to be perfect to feel good about himself.
There's a difference between praise and encouragement. One rewards the task while the other rewards the person ("You did it!" rather than "I'm proud of you!"). Praise can make a child feel that he's only "good" if he does something perfectly. Encouragement, on the other hand, acknowledges the effort. "Tell me about your drawing. I see that you like really like yellow" is more helpful than saying, "That's the most beautiful picture Iin the world." Too much praise can sap self-esteem because it can create pressure to perform and set up a continual need for approval from others. So dole out the praise judiciously and offer encouragement liberally; it will your child grow up to feel good about himself.