5 Ways to Boost Your Child's Self-Esteem and Elevate Yours in the Process
For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with poor self-esteem. For those fortunate enough to lack understanding of what that means, it's like going through life with a magnifying mirror on your face and seeing every blemish exposed to the world. You feel deep shame and want to hide from everyone, convinced you're not worthy of being seen.
Having low self-esteem is disabling. You go through life feeling unworthy of a fulfilling job, meaningful relationships, and unadulterated happiness. But when I became a parent, it forced me to exam my upbringing so I wouldn't do the same to my kids. That was something I couldn't bear.
I was born in the 1960's when promoting a youngster's self-esteem was not yet the subject of parenting books and television talk shows. My mom and dad and many others like them unknowingly did things that destroyed their youngsters' feelings of confidence, independence, and initiative. By looking back at the mistakes made during my childhood, I now see clearly 5 critical ways parents can boost a kid's self-esteem while simultaneously elevating their own:
1. Validate Their Feelings.
With hectic lives at work and home, parents often become overwhelmed. Getting to their jobs on time, picking up groceries, helping with homework, and keeping up with the daily technology flow take priority over listening to their children open up about their feelings. If a daughter feels sad about not getting the lead role in a play, Mom may respond dismissively: “It's not a big deal. You shouldn't feel that way. You had a big part in the last show.” If a son feels bad about getting a C on his geometry exam, Dad may console him by joking: “Oh, don't worry about that. You'll never use that crap in the real world.”
While remarks like these seem innocuous, denying a child's emotional life can have dire consequences. In extreme cases, it can cause a youngster to stuff her emotions with drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. In milder cases, it can cause her to feel disconnected from her parents – not seen and not understood. It's this lack of validation that leads to low self-esteem.
Listening to our children and acknowledging their feelings helps them and us. It forces parents to slow down and hear with their hearts, not just their ears. It's the best way to instill empathy in kids and elevate their humanity. Just by saying something as simple as “I hear that you're feeling __________ (angry, frustrated, sad, confused),” parents open the door for a deeper and more meaningful conversation with their youngsters.
Feelings are neither right nor wrong. They just are.
Kids Don't Want to Be Treated the Same. They Want to Be Recognized for Their Uniqueness.
2. Celebrate Their Uniqueness.
My parents always prided themselves on being fair with their four children and treating us all equally. The problem was we were totally different people with unique personalities, talents, and needs. By acting as if we were indistinguishable, they made us feel invisible. Each one of us grew up struggling with self-esteem issues and continue to do so well into our middle years.
I was an introvert, who needed time alone to recharge my batteries and feel sane. My mom and dad never recognized this about me so they couldn't help me recognize it about myself. My want to have time by myself got seen only as a liability, never an asset, and left me feeling odd and inferior.
Parents can celebrate each child's uniqueness only when they take time to discover it. Asking them questions, listening to their answers, and spending time with them is the best way to help kids become confident, happy, and willing to take on challenges. Over-programming them with music lessons, sports practices, and clubs makes them think that mom and dad only value them for what they do, not who they are.
Fairness is not giving everyone the same thing. Fairness is giving each person what they need to succeed.
3. Listen. Don't Lecture.
Promoting self-esteem involves daily interaction with a child – listening, talking, and getting to know what makes her tick. There are no shortcuts. Moms and dads fall into negative habits – nagging, complaining, criticizing, and lecturing – when the parent-child relationship gets put on the back burner and resentment builds up over time.
According to Debbie Pincus, a licensed mental health counselor, nagging and lecturing don't work and hurt the parent-child bond. When parents engage in these behaviors, they're trying to exert control over their kid and their kid resists. Nagging and lecturing are desperate measures parents use when they see a child getting off track. They're used out of fear, not good parenting.
Moms and dads need to stay in their own lane and not become emotionally enmeshed with their children. A youngster will respect her parents more when she sees them as calm and in control of their own lives, not hers. She'll develop a better self-concept when she's allowed to make her own choices, fail, and suffer the consequences. A parent's job is to prepare her for adulthood, not shelter her from all the pitfalls of life.
4. Have Reasonable Expectations.
Impatience, frustration, and misunderstandings come about when parents have unreasonable notions of what a youngster can do. By taking parenting classes and reading books on child development, moms and dads develop a better understanding of what to expect. This lets them relax and enjoy the journey.
When I taught preschool, many parents got mortified and overreacted when their kid snatched a shovel from the hand of another in the sandbox. They fretted when their 3-year-old wouldn't share her toys during a play date. But according to a Swiss study conducted at the University of Zurich, youngsters don't develop altruism and a wish to share until they're 7 or 8. Until that point, they're largely egocentric. With that knowledge, parents can stop worrying they're rearing a brat and start realizing their child is normal.
Likewise, teenagers and young adults are apt to make poor decisions because their brains aren't fully developed until age 25 or so. Knowing this helps parents stop believing their kid is a good-for-nothing lazy loser. They can expect their teens to make poor choices without considering the consequences such as quitting a job, driving too fast, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Kids Want a Parent, Not a Friend or Confidante
5. Let Kids Be Kids.
When I was growing up, my parents had a rocky marriage and my mother turned to me for support. She didn't have many friends her own age and didn't want to confide in anyone outside our family. While becoming her advisor was a heady experience at the time, it caused me to grow up too fast and miss the carefree experience of childhood. It damaged my relationship with my father and hurt my self-esteem.
According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., parents should not burden kids with their personal troubles. When moms and dads share their financial concerns, job hassles, and romantic problems, kids get distressed. They may experience feelings of hopelessness and despair.
When a parent feels tempted to confide in a child, she should take this as a sign to seek help. She may need to work on building stronger adult friendships or she may need to work with a therapist. But it is definitely not okay to use a child in that role.
This Is the Parenting Book I Needed to Understand My Sons' World and Build Their Self-Confidence
The world in which my sons are growing up – with technology, social media, and a faster pace of living – is so different from my childhood. I watched how other parents were rearing their kids and thought: I don't think that's right. But I wasn't sure. This book helped me clear up my doubts about modern-day parenting and the common mistakes we're making such as rescuing our kids and not letting them fail. It helped me discover ways to step back and let my boys grow into independent, confident young men.
© 2017 Nancy Mitchell