Instilling High Self-esteem
Have you ever looked into your child's eyes and wished you could infuse them with unshakeable confidence? As parents, we all want our children to grow up feeling loved, valued, and capable. Yet, navigating the delicate realm of self-worth can be challenging. But there are some positive and effective things you can do to help build your child's positive self-esteem. We're here to guide you on this journey, offering expert insights and practical tips to help you empower your child with higher self-esteem.
Download our Affirmation Cards
Affirmations are a great way to start instilling a positive inner voice in kids and helping them build self-esteem. Take a few minutes to download our affirmation cards to recite together. There are eight total with a positive affirmation on the front, and a breathing exercise on the back to help calm down kiddos when they're feeling overwhelmed. Then join our Instagram where you can share your experiences, and learn from other parents navigating the same path at thelittlevirtuesbooks.
Understanding High Self-esteem in Children
Before we dive into the how-to's, let's first understand what high self-esteem is. It's the belief and recognition of one's worth and abilities. It's the foundation of a child's life, influencing their choices, relationships, dreams, and overall happiness.
Healthy self-esteem involves a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. Children with higher self-esteem recognize their worth, but they also understand their flaws and are open to growth and improvement. When children have high self esteem, they are more likely to bounce back from setbacks, embrace their strengths and weaknesses, and step out of their comfort zones.
The Connection Between Healthy Self-esteem and Secure Attachment Styles
Just as roots are to a tree, a secure attachment style is foundational to building healthy self-esteem in children. Secure attachment, fostered through consistent, responsive, and loving care, gives children a sense of safety, trust, and the belief that they are worthy of love and respect.
When children have a secure attachment with their primary caregivers, they learn to view themselves positively. They internalize the understanding that they are valuable, competent, and lovable. This early experience of a secure, compassionate bond forms the basis of their self-esteem, setting the stage for how they perceive themselves and interact with the world in their later life.
In contrast, insecure attachment styles, often resulting from inconsistent or unresponsive care, may lead children to doubt their worth and abilities, which can negatively impact their self-esteem. Thus, establishing secure attachment relationships is a crucial step toward nurturing healthy self-esteem in children.
Gentle Parenting: A Key to Secure Attachment
Gentle parenting is a hot topic and buzzword these days, but high self-esteem and this parenting style are closely linked. The consistent, responsive, and empathetic care provided by gentle parents lays the groundwork for a secure attachment style. It strengthens the bond between parent and child, providing a safe, nurturing environment where children are free to express their emotions and needs. This helps them feel understood, loved, and valued, fostering a positive self image and healthy self-esteem. Neuroscientific research has also proven its benefits and how it's strongly related to developing high self-esteem in children.
The consistent and empathetic response of parents in gentle parenting helps develop secure attachment, which is associated with healthier brain development in children. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, secure attachments and positive relationships stimulate the growth of neural connections that build social-emotional resilience, the foundation of mental health[^1^].
At it's core, gentle parenting is a compassionate, empathetic, and respectful approach to child rearing that fosters a secure attachment style and boosts higher self-esteem. Also known as empathetic or respectful parenting, the philosophy of gentle parenting revolves around understanding children's feelings and guiding their behaviors with love, respect, and patience.
Gentle parents acknowledge their children's emotions, validate their feelings, and handle behavioral issues with understanding and empathy, rather than punishment. They set boundaries and provide guidance while maintaining an atmosphere of mutual respect and open communication. The focus is on building a strong, nurturing relationship between parent and child rather than enforcing strict rules and punishments.
Furthermore, gentle parenting helps children internalize the belief that they are worthy of love, respect, and understanding, which is a crucial aspect of a secure attachment style. This approach to parenting plays a pivotal role in the development of a child's positive self-perception, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.
Case Study: The Thompson Family
The Thompson family, with parents Lisa and Mark, and their three children, provides an excellent real-life example of how gentle parenting can nurture a child's positive self-esteem. [^2^].
Lisa and Mark switched from a more authoritarian parenting style to gentle parenting when their first child, Mia, was just two years old. They noticed that while the authoritarian approach ensured obedience, it failed to foster open communication and trust, and hindered Mia's emotional expression.
Once they switched to a gentle parenting style, they noticed a remarkable change. The emphasis on understanding and validating feelings, coupled with respectful and patient guidance, transformed their relationship with their children. Lisa and Mark noted that Mia, who was once withdrawn, began expressing her feelings more openly and displayed increased resilience when dealing with setbacks.
Their other two children, who were raised entirely on gentle parenting principles, exhibited high self-esteem from a young age. They displayed confidence, were comfortable expressing their emotions, and had a strong sense of self compassion.
This case study illustrates the potential benefits of gentle parenting in fostering secure attachment and enhancing a child's self-esteem. By emphasizing empathy, understanding, and respectful communication, gentle parenting can play a pivotal role in building a child's positive self-perception, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.
Distinguishing Healthy Self-Esteem from Toxic Self-Esteem
While healthy self-esteem acts as a child's armor against the challenges of the world, it's important to distinguish it from toxic self-esteem.
Toxic self-esteem can be easily confused with high self-esteem but is a facade. It's characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and an unmerited feeling of superiority over others and usually is shown through a controlling or top-down approach. It can mimic confidence, but it's rooted in insecurity. Children with toxic self-esteem may neglect the feelings of others, fail to accept criticism constructively and struggle with empathy.
"Toxic self-esteem is as dangerous as low self-esteem. It's like a balloon filled beyond capacity, on the verge of bursting at the slightest prick. Children with toxic self-esteem can be extremely vulnerable to criticism and failure, reacting with disproportionate anger or defensiveness. It's important to help these children recognize and value the worth in others, as well as cultivate an ability to accept their own imperfections. This helps build real confidence and resilience, rather than a fragile façade," says Dr. Laura Markham, a renowned child psychiatrist.
Consider, for instance, John, a 10-year-old boy who is exceptionally good at math. He is the best in his class, and he knows it. However, instead of being humble about his abilities, John often belittles his classmates who struggle with math, calling them "stupid" or "slow". He firmly believes that his mathematical prowess makes him superior to his peers. When his teacher gives him constructive feedback to further enhance his skills, he dismisses it, convinced that he already knows it all. This is an example of toxic self-esteem. While John does have a talent that boosts his self-confidence, his inability to respect others and accept criticism shows a lack of balance in his self-perception.
Ultimately, it's about balance. Encouraging healthy self-esteem means fostering self-confidence and high self-esteem in your child, while also teaching them humility, respect for others, and the value of continuous self-improvement.
The Importance of Nurturing Positive Self-Esteem
Children with high self-esteem are not just confident; they are resilient, independent, and compassionate. They feel comfortable expressing their feelings, asking for help, and standing up for themselves. They also tend to perform better academically and show greater emotional intelligence. As parents, it's our responsibility to foster such an environment where our children feel cherished and capable, laying a strong foundation for their future.
According to a study published by Orth, Robins, and Widaman (2012) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology[^3^], there has been a notable increase in the number of children struggling with low self-esteem. The study found that this issue could be attributed to a variety of factors including high academic pressures, cyberbullying, and the constant comparison with peers on social media platforms.
Children today are under immense pressure to perform academically, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy if they fail to meet the high expectations set for them. The negative behaviors encountered in the digital world, such as cyberbullying, can further erode their self-esteem. Moreover, the culture of constant comparison on social media platforms can lead children to develop a distorted self-image, often feeling that they don't measure up to the 'ideal' lives of their peers.
Another research by Erol and Orth (2011)^[4^] indicates that parental criticism can also contribute to low self-esteem in children. When children constantly receive negative feedback about their abilities, they begin to internalize these beliefs, leading to a decrease in self-confidence and lower self image.
These findings underscore the importance of addressing the issue of low self-esteem in children, and the crucial role that parents, educators, and society play in nurturing high self esteem from an early age.
How to Empower Your Child with Positive Self-Worth
Now, let's explore some ways you can help your child develop an internal sense of their positive qualities and own value.
1. Be a Positive Mirror
Children often see themselves through the eyes of their parents. Self-esteem research has shown that your actions and reactions can significantly influence how your kids perceive themselves.
A study led by Bandura (1977)^[5^] introduced the concept of observational learning or social learning theory, which suggests that children learn behaviors by observing and imitating the actions of adults around them. This emphasizes the weight of actions over words in child development.
For instance, while you might verbally encourage your child to read, if they often see you engrossed in a book, they're more likely to develop a reading habit.
Actions, it appears, speak louder than words when it comes to reinforcing behavior and values in children. Therefore, embodying the habits and attitudes you wish to instill in your child can prove more effective than merely verbalizing them. This form of non-verbal communication plays a vital role in shaping a child's behaviors, beliefs, and values.
2. Foster Positive Self-Talk
One of the most effective ways to empower your child with a strong sense of self-worth is by teaching them the art of positive self-talk. This involves replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations and beliefs.
First, make your child aware of the concept of self-talk. Explain that the voice inside their head that comments on their actions and capabilities is called 'self-talk'. This internal dialogue can be either positive, helping to boost their confidence, or negative, leading to self-doubt.
Once your child understands this concept, encourage them to pay attention to their self-talk. Ask them to share what their internal voice often says, especially during challenging situations. This step will help you understand whether your child's self-talk is primarily positive or negative.
Next, guide them on how to turn negative self-talk into positive affirmations. For instance, if they say to themselves, "I can't do this, it's too hard," encourage them to change it to, "This is challenging, but I can learn with practice."
Remember, changing self-talk is a gradual process. It requires patience and consistent practice. Acknowledge your child's efforts in making this shift and celebrate small victories to motivate them further.
Additionally, model positive self-talk in your behavior. When you're faced with negative self-talk or negative thoughts, verbalize positive statements, such as "I can handle this," or "I'm doing my best." This will help your child understand that everyone experiences negative thinking sometimes. The key is to counter it with positive affirmations and self-compassion.
By fostering positive self-talk, you're equipping your child with a powerful tool to combat self-doubt, practice good mental health, and nurture a higher self-esteem.
3. Encourage Effort Over Results
Help your child understand that abilities and intelligence can be developed with time and effort.
This phenomenon is highlighted by psychologist Carol S. Dweck in her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success". She states:
"In a fixed mindset, kids believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, children understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it."^[6^]
Dweck's quote underscores the need to shift our focus from inherent talent to consistent effort and perseverance. By instilling this growth mindset in our children, we encourage them to see challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as threats to their sense of self.
So encourage your kids to see challenges as opportunities to grow rather than obstacles to fear.
Praise their dedication, perseverance, and hard work, instead of merely celebrating their success or achievements. This change in perspective makes them understand that it's not about instant success, but the journey and effort that lead to positive mental and physical health.
4. Teach the Power of "Yet"
The word "yet" has immense power when it comes to developing a growth mindset. It encourages children to see their struggles as temporary obstacles rather than permanent failures. For instance, if they say, "I can't solve this math problem," encourage them to say, "I can't solve this math problem yet." This simple shift in language is a reminder that they are on a learning curve and that with time and effort, they can overcome the challenge.
"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work... yet." - Thomas Edison.
5. Embrace Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
Guide your child to perceive mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than signs of failure. Embracing this concept of 'failing fast' helps foster a growth mindset. The idea of failing fast is not about reckless rushing, but rather about developing the courage to take calculated risks, embracing any potential missteps, and learning from them quickly.
When children understand that it's okay to fail and that it's essential to learn from those failures quickly, they are often more willing to step outside of their comfort zones and tackle new challenges. This helps them to build resilience and adaptability, both of which are crucial skills for navigating life's ups and downs. In addition, it encourages an experimental mindset, fostering creativity and innovation.
By valuing the lessons learned from failure, they develop the ability to turn setbacks into springboards for growth. So, 'failing fast' is not about celebrating failure, but understanding that each failure is a step closer to success. This approach helps them understand that everyone makes mistakes and that they are invaluable steps in the learning process, not a sign of incompetence.
6. Combat All-or-Nothing Thinking
All-or-nothing thinking, also known as black-and-white thinking, can be a significant barrier to developing a growth mindset and often leads to self-critical children. This cognitive distortion causes children to see things in extremes- if they're not perfect, they're a failure. It's crucial to help your child understand that it's okay to be somewhere in the middle and everyone makes mistakes. Here's how you can combat all-or-nothing thinking:
- Promote Balanced Thinking: Teach your child to recognize and challenge self-critical thoughts. For example, if they say, "I'm terrible at math," encourage them to consider instances where they've done well or made progress in math.
- Grade Success: Instead of viewing success as a binary concept (success or failure), introduce a grading scale. This helps them understand that there are varying degrees of success and that progress, not perfection, is what matters most.
- Reframe Negative Statements: Encourage your child to reframe all-or-nothing statements in more nuanced, realistic terms. For example, instead of "I can't do this," they could say, "I need more practice to master this."
By combating extreme thinking, we encourage children to navigate life with more resilience, understanding that success is a journey with ups and downs and not a single destination.
7. Foster Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance is a cornerstone of a healthy mental state. It helps children to accept their strengths and weaknesses and to appreciate themselves for who they are. Here are some ways to help your kids develop self-acceptance:
- Model Respect: Children often mirror the behaviors and attitudes of their parents. If you acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses without harsh judgment — your kids are likely to mimic this behavior.
- Encourage Self-Expression: Allow your child to express their thoughts, feelings, and creativity. Whether it's through art, writing, or conversation, self-expression helps kids to understand and accept their own unique identity.
- Commend Individuality: Every child is unique, with their own talents, interests, and capabilities. Make it a point to celebrate these differences and encourage your child to take pride in their individuality.
- Promote Body Positivity: Help your kids to appreciate their bodies for what they can do, rather than how they look. Encourage a healthy lifestyle, but avoid focusing on aesthetics. This discourages negative body image and increases life satisfaction.
- Provide Unconditional Love and Support: Show your child that your love and support is not contingent on their achievements or behavior. This unconditional love fosters an environment where kids feel safe to explore their identity and develop self-acceptance.
Remember, the journey to self-acceptance is a personal one and it may take time. Patience, understanding, and consistent support from you can make a world of difference in your child's journey towards self-acceptance.
Incorporating Positivity in Daily Life
Building high self-esteem isn't a one-time task; it's a life-long journey. Here are some ways to boosting self esteem in daily life:
1. Read Stories to Boost Self-Respect
Reading stories is an impactful way to instill high self esteem. Stories can provide powerful messages about personal worth, resilience, and the value of individuality, which can help children develop a positive self-image. Here are some ways to utilize reading to develop healthy relationships:
Choose Empowering Literature
Pick stories that feature characters who overcome obstacles, demonstrate resilience, and exhibit strength in their individuality. These narratives can serve as inspiring models for children, showing them that they, too, can tackle challenges and appreciate their unique selves. To tackle the subject of high self esteem and self respect, we recommend Little Love, Little Honor, and Little Envy.
Discuss the Story
After reading, engage your child in a discussion about the story. Ask them to consider the characters' strengths, how they overcame obstacles, and what they could learn from the characters' experiences. This process can help your child reflect on their own strengths and capabilities.
Relate the Story to Real Life
Draw parallels between the story and your child's own experiences. This can help illustrate that everyone faces challenges and can help your child draw strength from their own experiences.
Encourage Creative Writing
After reading the story, encourage your child to write their own narrative. This can be a powerful tool for self-expression and can help them to understand and appreciate their own journey and individuality.
This can provide a safe and engaging way to help your child build a high self-esteem.
2. Create a Gratitude Journal
A gratitude journal is a fantastic tool for cultivating high self esteem and appreciating life's many blessings. Journaling about gratitude helps shift focus from what's going wrong to what's going right, fostering a positive mindset. Here's how to create and maintain a gratitude journal with your child:
Choose a Journal
The first step is to choose a journal. Encourage your child to pick one that they like. It can be a simple notebook or something more elaborate, designed specifically for gratitude journaling.
Establish a Routine
Consistency is key in journaling. Encourage your child to write in their gratitude journal daily, perhaps as a part of their bedtime routine. This regular practice will make gratitude a natural part of their daily reflections.
Guide Their Entries
Initially, your child might need guidance on what to write about. Prompt them with questions like "What made you smile today?" or "Who made you feel happy today?" Over time, they'll start discovering their own gratitude prompts.
Emphasize the Positive
The focus of gratitude journaling is on positive experiences, feelings, and people. Encourage your child to concentrate on the good things in their lives, no matter how small.
Every now and then, take time to look back at past entries. This is a wonderful way to reflect on and remember all the good things and can be especially uplifting on tough days.
It's a journey of learning to appreciate the small blessings that make life beautiful.
3. Regularly Express Affection
Affection is a powerful way to reinforce your child's high self esteem. It's essential to regularly express your love and appreciation for your child - these expressions of affection can come in many forms, both physical and verbal. Here are some ways to incorporate affection into your everyday interactions with your child:
Hug and Show Physical Affection
Hugs, kisses, high fives, or a gentle pat on the back can all serve as tangible expressions of your love. These forms of touch are comforting and help to strengthen your bond with your child.
Use Affectionate Words
Telling your child you love them, that you're proud of them, or that you appreciate them goes a long way in boosting their high self-esteem. These words of affection affirm that they are valued and loved unconditionally.
Write Notes of Affection
Leaving a little note in your child’s lunch box or under their pillow is a sweet and surprising way to express your love. It could be a simple 'I love you' or a note appreciating something they've done.
Spend Quality Time Together
Quality time is a form of affection, too. It shows your child that you value their company and enjoy being with them. Whether it’s playing a game, reading together, or going for a walk, these shared experiences create lasting memories and build a strong connection.
Remember, expressing affection regularly and genuinely helps to reinforce your child's self-worth and lets them know that they are loved unconditionally. It's a simple but powerful way to boost your child’s high self-esteem.
Together, We Can Make a Difference
Every child deserves to grow up feeling loved, valued, and capable. As parents, we have the power to shape our children's perception of themselves and their potential. Let's use that power wisely and compassionately. Remember, the journey to fostering high self-esteem is not a sprint; it's a marathon. So, be patient, be consistent, and most importantly, be your child's biggest cheerleader. For more tips and to share with our community, follow us on our Instagram @thelittlevirtuesbooks.
[^1^]: Harvard Center on the Developing Child. (2010). The Science of Early Childhood Development.
[^2^]: O'Connell, M. (2018). "Gentle parenting: A personal journey into a new way of relating to children". Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27(6), 1843-1852.
[^3^]: Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of self-esteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1271–1288.
[^4^]: Erol, R. Y., & Orth, U. (2011). Self-esteem development from age 14 to 30 years: A longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(3), 607–619.
[^5^]: Bandura (1977)
[^6^]: Carol S. Dweck, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success".