A baby is born naked and unashamed about feeling good (smiling and cooing) – or feeling bad (shrieking and sobbing). But it doesn’t take long before young children learn to take their emotional cues from their parents and playmates.
Kids with a good, healthy self-image who feel good about life typically share certain characteristics, including:
- Feeling liked and accepted
- Having confidence
- Taking pride in their accomplishments
- Thinking good things about themselves
- Believing in themselves
Kids with low self-esteem, on the other hand, have these traits:
- Self-critical and hard on themselves
- Feeling inferior, that s/he is not as good as other children
- Focusing on their failures rather than their successes
- Lack of confidence
- Doubting s/he can do things well or has talent
Help your kids mold a positive attitude about themselves. It will boost their confidence and inspire them to greatness. Guiding your child toward the purest and most sincere expression of her or his creative genius is one of the best gifts you can bestow.
Kids who feel safe, loved, and accepted tend to have high self-esteem, hallmarked by boundless energy to understand, share, help, and build. This natural process begins when a baby receives loving words, comforting physical care, and positive attention.
Here are some great ways to foster healthy self-worth at an early age:
1) Use positive action words and praise
Top British psychologist, hypnotherapist, and motivational speaker Marissa Peer tells the story about how she deliberately used empowering words to speak to her young daughter. Whenever her daughter turned around at the school gate after being dropped off and returned for something, instead of asking, “What did you forget?” Peer asked, “What did you remember?”
After her daughter retrieved the missing item, the esteem-building mother gave enthusiastic praise: “Wow! You are so super-smart to have remembered to come back for this before you went into school. You have a brilliant mind!”
Peer reports that she sees many young patients who believe they are unwanted or worthless. Teaching them to praise themselves releases them from needing someone else’s approval to feel loved and valuable. Emotional independence is key to a mature, confident personality.
That said, avoid insincere praise when it isn’t appropriate to be a pollyanna. It’s okay to acknowledge a personal setback while remaining supportive. An example of this after getting a low test score would be to say, “We both know everyone has a bad day. I’m proud of you for doing your best and hanging in there. Tomorrow you’ll do even better because you are so awesome. I love you so much just the way you are.”
2) Let your kid help
Children love praise – who doesn’t? – and quickly figure out that one sure-fire way to get it in heaploads is to help out the parents. Kids act this out with the miniature tools and shopping carts their folks (and grandfolks) buy them.
Obviously, there are some tasks that are impossible for a toddler or young child to do. But can let your little helper carry a lightweight, indestructible item from the car into the house – even if you planted a toy there to serve the purpose.
When traveling, let your kids share the load by wearing their own scaled-down backpacks. Just be sure you have the essentials in case the luggage gets left behind somewhere. If that happens, don’t scold in anger. After all, plenty of adults leave stuff behind.
“To err is human, to forgive divine,” as the great English poet Alexander Pope famously said.
Shift your anger to empathy so your kid feels it is safe to engage with you. Ask children to share why they did what they did and be prepared to accept the fact that they may have simply made an honest mistake.
3) Show your child how to learn and grow from experience
Kids benefit mentally and emotionally from setting clear, reachable goals and tracking progress toward the finish line. Make goals specific with how to achieve them. For example, read one book that has 10 chapters by reading one chapter a week (or some number of days). Review your child’s progress and stay supportive despite lapses.
Most children love to learn. Help your kid get the most out of the classes at school by listening to what they thought was awesome about their day. Active listening is a powerful tool for adults as well as children that shows your esteem, care, commitment, and dedication.
With kindness, help your child do things, from tying shoelaces to riding a bicycle to boiling an egg. Introduce your kid to music, sports, art, cooking, tech skills, farming, and mechanics. Practice favorite activities together and share the joy of being a family.
Kids, like most of us, want to do things they’re good at and find enjoyable. They also like to imitate the adults. Slow down and take plenty of time when showing a child some new skill or activity. Let the kid do it and praise the attempt, even if it isn’t successful.
Children with healthy high self-images make friends and get along, they help, give, and are kind, and they work hard. They want to feel included by others, understood, and accepted. Kids thrive on a reward or recognition such as a prize or a good grade that they know they earned.
Confident kids grow into future leaders of communities, businesses, and governments. They make great parents who pass your wisdom along to their children.
Don’t assume your offspring knows you love, honor, cherish, and value them as a person, not to mention your flesh and blood. Tell them, show them, over and over. Your kids will thank you for it later.