The more time I spend with children of different ages, the more I notice the low self-esteem an alarming number of them seem to have.
I’ve had experience with children of all ages. Over my career I have worked with students in junior high school, teens aged 15-19 who have disengaged from study and work, primary school students from P-6, as well as 2-5 year olds through The Parenting Co. I also have my own children aged 4 and 5.
Low self-esteem is a common trend across all age groups. I believe that by making some small changes to the way we parent young children we can set them up to be more confident and self-assured as they mature. It’s hard enough to be an adolescent in today’s society without the additional social struggles as a result of low confidence and self-esteem.
So, what can you do with your pre-schooler to boost their self-esteem? You are probably thinking that you need to praise and encourage everything they do, tell them they are amazing, beautiful, smart and capable. This is a lovely approach, but it’s just not enough. Your child doesn’t just need to hear how amazing they are, they need to learn through personal experience that they are capable of being strong and independent.
To gain self-esteem your child needs to struggle and fail. They need to learn that things don’t always go their way, and that they have the power to change that. They need to try and try again until they figure out the strategy that works for them. This starts from when they are a tiny baby reaching for a toy just out of their reach, right up to when they are doing homework after school.
Imagine your 5 month old is on their back on their play mat, just about to roll for the first time while reaching for an interesting toy. You then pick up the toy and put it in their hand for them. What do they learn? That they don’t need to try because you will be there to do it for them. Imagine that your 3 year old is struggling to put their jacket on and get their arms in the right holes. You step up, take it off them and put it on for them. What do they learn? That they don’t need to learn how because you will do it for them.
This doesn’t mean that you walk away and ignore them if they are frustrated. Acknowledge that it’s tricky and that you can see they are struggling, but don’t step in and do it for them. If they give up, tell them that it’s ok and they can try again another time, then offer your help if they would like to accept it. When they finally accomplish the task they will feel the pride that comes with success.
Children need to become frustrated. They need to learn that things aren’t always simple. Have you ever felt the excitement of success when you complete a difficult task? Doesn’t it motivate you to aim higher, try harder and see what else you can achieve!? You get a great boost to your confidence and your self-esteem.
Children who don’t have the opportunity to complete challenges alone can develop a sense of learned helplessness. This means that they have learnt through experience that they aren’t capable, and they need a parent (or teacher!) there to help them through every little struggle they come across. That’s not the sort of child who will make good friendships in school, or be confident enough to challenge themselves in a sporting team or eventually a university degree.
Give your child the chance to struggle and learn what they are capable of, and watch their self-esteem soar!