“I hate the way I look”
your child mutters turning away from the mirror in anger.
“everyone is smarter than me” or
“I’m no good at sports”
“I just can’t do anything right!”
The list goes on, and for children with low self-esteem, it’s a long one.
You try explaining to your child why they are wrong, you point out other people’s failings (after all, no one is perfect), you comfort them and help them find ways of improving, you even talk to their teachers… but nothing seems to help. Your child’s confidence is in the pits and you don’t know what else to do.
It’s a heart-breaking situation for any parent and an incredibly disempowering one for your child. Fortunately, it’s not an insurmountable one.
Because you see, self-esteem is about confidence, about being able to esteem or admire ourselves, and the problem is simply that your child doesn’t know how to do that.
When a child has low self-esteem:
– they are making incorrect assumptions and setting unrealistic expectations about themselves.
– they are unaware of their own abilities.
– they are inaccurately comparing themselves to others.
– they lack courage to be themselves.
– they feel disempowered.
Each of these is about your child not being able to accurately assess their skills, ability, intellect, or performance. And since nobody really teaches them how to do it, is it any surprise they are struggling?
Fortunately, this is something you can teach them.
5 Powerful Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem
1. Learn What you Can and Cannot Change
Our behaviors are things we can change, our identity we cannot. This is important to understand because it helps children separate the things that they do from the person they are.
It’s the difference between saying “I said something mean to someone” and “I am a mean person.”
A child may do something they are not proud of, but that is something they can change. It doesn’t mean that they are unworthy of admiration on the whole.
Here are some ways to practice separating behaviors from identity:
– when you hear your child speaking negatively about themselves, help them understand whether those feelings relate to a behavior or their identity.
– help your child identify ways of improving the behaviors they don’t like.
– point out positive behavior and celebrate the fact that your child made those choices.
– share instances when you or others are blurring this distinction and invite your child to break down the behaviors from the identity.
2. Know How to Measure your Awesomeness
We love comparing ourselves to others and using these comparisons to gauge our own awesomeness. Children do this to a fault and it’s devastating. The problem is that your child is completely different from any other person against whom they are measuring up, but they don’t realize that. Most think that “awesomeness” is a gradient scale with the cool kids on one end and them on the other.
What they need is a new way to evaluate themselves, one that has nothing to do with the other kids. To help you along, you can try this:
– help your child define their own personal notion of “awesomeness” or “success“
– teach them how to self-evaluate their progress and determine whether their personal expectations are being met.
3. Dream Big, Really Big
We want to protect our children when they have low self-esteem, so we try to manage their aspirations, setting low expectations so that they don’t loose the little confidence they already have. Ironically, this has the exact opposite effect (and worse, it can actually enhance your child’s low self-esteem). Why?
Because your child’s dreams and aspirations are the things they really, truly want for themselves, the things they are willing to fight for, the things they believe we deserve. And you want them to think they deserve the world, that they are worth it.
What you don’t want is for them to think they are incapable of reaching those dreams, that they have failed, because that only reinforces their notion that they are unworthy.
So, help your child set high aspirations:
– help them identify what is important to them now (what they care about and why) and how they can.
– help them set realistic, but achievable expectations.
– teach them to build the courage to dream big.
4. Practice Empathy and Collaboration
Empathy is about understanding people who are different than us. Children with low self-esteem have a difficult time seeing their uniqueness as something of value. Empathy forces them to experience diversity, to see the uniqueness of others and realize that it’s ok to be different.
Collaboration is about working with others to create something new and meaningful. It teaches us that we all have something to contribute, and allows children to see that they have the power to impact others in real and important ways.
Some good ways to practice empathy and collaboration are:
– expose your child to different experiences and help them find words to describe how they feel.
– talk to your child about events happening around the world and how those events are impacting other people.
– help your child identify the feelings that other people might be experiencing and relate those to his or her own feelings.
– encourage your child to interact with people who are different than they are and then talk about what those differences add to the relationship.
5. Speak your Mind
Children with low self-esteem have a difficult time formulating their own opinions and speaking out. Unfortunately, this only reinforces their feelings of inadequacy, making it difficult for them to be true to themselves and what they believe. Worse, it makes them highly susceptible to being manipulated by others who are more confident or persuasive.
It is not easy for a child with low self-esteem to speak their mind, but it is also one of the most empowering things they can learn to do.
Here are some ideas to help you along:
– create an environment in your home that encourages individual opinions.
– have open and honest dialogue with your child about their (and your) concerns.
– as a family, show mutual respect for and a willingness to consider different points of view.
– give your child opportunities to speak their minds and hearts (even if you disagree).
– encourage your child to say the things they mean and mean the things they say.
– challenge your child on their opinions and invite them to do the same.
It is not easy raising a child with low self-esteem, but you can change your child’s life –> the next time you talk with them, listen to what they say about themselves. Start by helping them separate what relates to their behavior from what relates to their identity. By the end of the day, you’ll be well on your way to boosting their self-esteem.