How to help your child feel good about themselves
6 Important Strategies to help your child feel good about themselves.
As a counsellor and child therapist, I always begin the therapeutic relationship by asking parents what their ultimate goal is for their child.
Without fail, most parents will say something along the lines of:
“I just want my child to be happy.”
The pursuit of happiness is such a natural thing to wish for, but what does happiness in children actually look like? What traits would you see in your child to know that they are happy?
If you have identified behaviours such as being healthy, active, socially engaged, curious, confident, and free from anxiety, fear and aggression, you are spot on!
All of these point to a child who feels good about themselves.
It begins at a young age
Helping your child feel good about themselves begins at a very young age.
The well-known psychologist, Erik Erikson, identified a psychosocial stage in early childhood that is crucial to helping children feel good about themselves. It occurs around the age of 1-2 years when children begin to assert their independence and sense of control.
Erikson referred to this stage as Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt.
When children are encouraged and supported to do things for themselves and experience success, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to control their world.
Where it goes wrong
Unfortunately, when children are not given the opportunity to assert themselves, or when they are overly controlled, shamed, or criticised, they begin to feel that they are not ‘good enough’.
- They will feel self-conscious about themselves and their performance.
- They will grow up believing that they can’t do things on their own and need to rely on others for help.
This is when children become overly dependent on others, lack self-esteem, and begin to doubt themselves and their abilities.
Research shows that feelings of shame and doubt in children are linked with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and greater nervousness about their performance.
To help your child develop confidence and self-esteem, it is important to encourage them to become increasingly independent so they can gain more control over what they do and how they do it.
Here are some strategies you can begin to implement today to help your child feel good about themselves.
1. OFFER CHOICES
As adults, we like the idea of being in control and making our own decisions. This is no different for children.
Where possible, offer your child free choice, e.g. “What would you like to wear today?”
In some situations where you still want to control the outcome, offer your child a choice within limits, e.g. “Do you want to wear your green shoes or your brown shoes?” or “Do you want one spoon of pumpkin or two?”
2. LET THEM DO IT
As parents, our natural instinct is to help our children by doing things for them. For example, you may want to dress or feed your toddler because they make a mess or get it wrong.
Even though we mean well, unfortunately, this does not help children feel good about themselves and their growing abilities.
Try to avoid doing things for your child by encouraging them to have a go first.
3. HELP THEM SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS
As parents, we are quick to offer solutions when our children face challenges because this is what good parents are supposed to do, right?
Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
For example, your child may struggle to push a toy car through a tunnel, and you show them to go around. In this scenario, as you stop your child from finding ways to come up with their own solution, you unknowingly give them the message that they are not competent or able to solve everyday problems on their own.
The best approach is to encourage your child to try new tasks or challenges independently.
If your child responds with statements such as: “I can’t do it” or “I don’t know how”, protect them from feeling shame and doubt by responding with open-ended questions such as: “What do you think you can try to make it work?”, or “What else can you do?”
4. LET THEM EXPERIMENT
One of the critical roles for us as parents is to allow our children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment.
When your child comes up with an idea (even if you think it won’t work), play along and say: “Okay, shall we try it to see if it will work?”
If their strategy didn’t work, you could respond with: “Hmmm, that didn’t work. What else can we try?” The idea is to teach your child that trial and error is part of life.
Sometimes our ideas work, and sometimes it doesn’t.
And that is okay.
5. LET THEM FAIL
Another critical role in helping your child feel good about themselves is to tolerate their failures and mistakes.
When your child makes mistakes, avoid any criticism or harsh punishment.
Parents who are negative or who punish a child for simple mistakes can contribute to feelings of shame or self-doubt.
Mistakes are part of life and learning – especially for young children who are still growing and developing muscle skills and coordination.
It is best to always respond with a positive comment such as: “That’s okay; sometimes that happens.”
6. AVOID EMPTY PRAISE
We are all guilty of this!
A child will show us something, like a painting, and we will respond with empty praise, such as, “That’s nice”. Or we may praise the end product: “That’s a nice painting.”
A better way to respond so your child can feel good about themselves is to praise their effort instead of the end result.
For example: “I can see that you worked so hard to put all those colours on the paper.”
Also, it is important to encourage your child’s efforts, despite the end result. “That didn’t work out this time, but I noticed how hard you tried.”
When we praise our children’s efforts rather than the end result, they become motivated to try harder in the future. They will also be more motivated to keep trying even when facing challenges.
So, to help your child feel good about themselves …
- offer choices where they can control the outcome,
- allow them to experience a sense of achievement by completing tasks independently,
- encourage them to experiment with both success and failure,
- encourage them to come up with solutions to solve everyday problems,
- praise their efforts, even when they don’t succeed.
When your child feels secure in their ability to control their world, they will be happy, active, socially engaged, curious, confident, and better able to overcome feelings of fear, anxiety, and aggression.
Please know that you do not have to be alone in your efforts to help your child feel good about themselves. It helps to have someone to talk to. Book a therapy session with me today if you would like extra guidance on helping your child feel more confident.