Ok so how do we raise confident children with high self-esteem? Now I’m not taking Kevin at the beginning of Home Alone type confidence. No one likes an arrogant little A hole right?
No, I’m referring to raising children who are comfortable with themselves. Younguns who really like themselves. Kids who believe in their thoughts and abilities. Children who are positive, hopeful and happy. Little people who feel good about how they look and content with how they feel.
Self-belief and self-esteem are huge motivators. As is confidence. And so all these attributes are hugely important for perseverance and success in life.
Newsflash – Confidence isn’t fixed!
It can grow and develop. And if it does, children and young people are more likely to lead fulfilling and contented lives. Confidence is not about how children behave on the outside – it’s about their inner feelings, and their self-belief.
We all want to raise these types of kids right? So what can we do to facilitate that?
Ok, so it may be blindly obvious, but I have to write about it, so just hear me out. We all love our kids so much right? But it’s not enough to just – feel it. We need to show it, through – hugs, kisses, kind words, gestures and positive praise. We must let them know we love them, so that they feel safe and secure. That love must also be unconditional, and we need to make sure they know that. When my kids mess up, once we’ve sorted it all out, I always tell them I love them unconditionally, no matter what they say or do. ‘Even if I did a poo on your head?’ My five-year-old usually says. ‘Yes’ I say ‘Even if you did that.’
Giving kids our time teaches them they are worthy, valued and listened to. Love bombing, one-on-one time, QT, whatever you want to call it. If you want a confident child with high self-esteem you have to give them lots of attention. FACT.
Value Their Emotions
If your kid tells you they’re upset about something don’t ignore them or tell them they’re silly. Those feelings are very real to them. How would you feel if you were really upset and someone told you, you were just being silly? Exactly.
So, if your child starts having a tantrum because – for example – they can’t get their socks on, say – ‘I know. It’s really frustrating when that happens isn’t it?’ Then help them work out how to solve the problem. Don’t ignore their emotions. Remember we’re trying to make them comfortable with what they think and feel. Getting angry, upset or frustrated is a part of life after all.
Praising children for their effort and how hard they try really makes a difference to what they believe about themselves and how well they can do. Always notice when they’ve done something well, but never give false praise. Children will pick up on false praise, and will start to doubt it, which in the long run can do more harm than good.
I usually try and mix it up when it comes to praise. Saying – ‘You’re such a good girl!’ all the time, can start to wash over them. So, I try and vary it by telling them they’re – kind, strong, clever etc. Try to be specific, ‘It makes Mummy happy when you get dressed quickly, because that means we won’t be late for school.’ You get the picture. I read once that physical contact affirms verbal comments, so whenever I praise I give a stroke of the cheek, a squeeze of the shoulder or a kiss.
Structure and Boundaries
Challenge children, set up realistic expectations, and teach them how to deal with mistakes. Teach them right and wrong, set expectations and give them clear structures and boundaries. This makes children feel safe. If they misbehave remind yourself that it is their behaviour you don’t like, not them as people. NEVER resort to name calling. Telling kids they are – ‘naughty’, ‘annoying’ or ‘bad’ is name calling and can be detrimental to self-esteem. I always try to separate the child from the behaviour. It’s a technique I learnt as a teacher.
But what does that actually mean?
OK so, if your child does something bad, you tell them their ‘behaviour’ was naughty or silly and NOT them. I usually say ‘You’re a good girl aren’t you? And so you can choose to change that naughty behaviour.’ When I talk to my child about behaviour I make it visual for them. When I say the word ‘behaviour’, I usually pretend like I’m holding it in my hand. This helps them see that it is a separate thing that does not define them. It’s something that they are in control of and it’s something they can change. Try not to label, criticise or blame your child when things go wrong. When they feel like they’ve failed, help build them up not tear them down.
Giving your children chores or jobs allows you to give them some really specific praise. You can visibly see it makes them proud as punch – although inevitably they may try and manipulate you afterwards by saying something like – ‘Can I have a treat now because I was so good at helping you?’ Always a catch right? (winks) Giving children responsibilities teaches them about – belonging, being a team player and actively being part of a community, which in turn will nurture confidence and self-esteem.
Teach your kids to have pride in what they do, to always give their best and try hard and to never give up. Again, always notice when they’ve tried their best at something. ‘A’ for effort every time!
Build Them Up
If you see they’re knocked down, build them up. If they tell you they are rubbish at something – again – focus on their effort. ‘You tried so hard and Mummy’s proud of you for that. You’re very determined and strong.’ Focus on what they’ve learnt and how they can improve next time. All kids excel in different areas so always point out what they are good at. Try not to be too pushy and compare your kid to others because there will always be someone better, and so inevitably, you’re setting them up for a fall.
In body and mind. Encourage your children to nourish their bodies by – eating well, sleeping well, drinking water and exercising. Try not to focus too much on how they look – ‘You look so beautiful’ or ‘You’re so pretty’ can teach them to obsess over superficial, outward factors and can in turn make them self conscious. Instead focus on all the amazing things their bodies can do – thinking, running, hugging, dancing, drawing etc. Focus on their inner qualities. Tell them they are clever, brave, strong and kind and that’s the stuff that matters.
When it comes to emotions, always encourage kids to talk things through. Give your child time to talk about their day and really listen to what they have to say. Ask them how things have made them feel and acknowledge any negative thoughts. Teach them that negative thoughts and feelings are normal and a part of life and so it’s ok to feel them, but it’s how they deal with them that’s important.
Challenges and Interests
Confident kids with high self-esteem need challenges, hobbies and interests. Find stuff they enjoy and that they’re good at, by trying different clubs and activities. Encourage your kid to set realistic, reachable goals. If your child feels they have failed or have been rejected, try to find something good about the experience that you can praise them for. Again, this could be the amount of effort they put in, or the dedication they showed to an activity, or the way they worked as a team. Engage with your kid about changes that they might be able to make in the future and what they have learnt from the experience.
Teach your child that mistakes and failures are frequently the basis for learning and are not only accepted but expected. Mistakes are experiences from which we learn, rather than feel defeated by. Always encourage your child to step outside their comfort zone, push themselves and take risks. Succeeding at something difficult can harbour such a sense of pride, which will of course raise confidence and self-esteem. Explain that to them.
Be a Positive Role Model
How you as a parent deal with failure and upset will undoubtedly reflect on your own children. Confidence is contagious. It’s been proven in studies that parents who have confidence in their own ability as a parent, in turn improve their children’s self-beliefs and capabilities.
If your child is naturally confident with high self-esteem but you see this dwindle ask yourself – what outward factors could have affected them? Has there been a recent family trauma? A house or school move? Could your child be having problems at school such as bullying or difficulty with work? Have you introduced a new partner that your child could be struggling with? Are your teenagers spending too much time on social media following fitspo bunnies, skinny models or aesthetically pleasing celebrities? You may need to seek help from professionals – the school pastoral team, your doctor a counsellor or child psychologist.
We need to raise kids who feel hopeful not hopeless. Therefore, we must raise children to have what is known as a – ‘Growth Mindset’. Kids with this mindset believe they can improve their performance through hard work, determination and by learning more. These children enjoy challenge. Failure and mistakes are not seen as an indication of their ability and so they are willing and able, to try and fail at tasks.
We must avoid teaching kids to have what is known as a – ‘Fixed Mindset’ – in which they believe that their ability is fixed. Children with this mindset believe that there’s nothing they can do about their failings. These children avoid tasks they find challenging. Failure and mistakes make them question their ability, and therefore their self-worth. This in turn lowers self-esteem and fosters a feeling of hopelessness.
Self-esteem includes the feelings and thoughts we have about our competencies, our worth, our ability to make a positive difference, our level of optimism, our willingness to confront rather than retreat from realistic challenges, our capacity to learn from both our successes and failures, and our ability to treat ourselves as well as others with respect.
Self-esteem is greatly influenced by our experiences of success. It guides and motivates our actions, which in turn, influences the outcome of those actions, which in turn further affects our self-esteem. Therefore a cyclical process is in play, where successes, or failure, impact our future self-esteem, and so on, and so on…
As adults we have a hugely important role to play in encouraging confidence and raising self-esteem in our children. Confidence will help our kids deal with the many challenges they will face in life. If they are confident, they will believe in their abilities and will feel hopeful that they can achieve their goals. This will make them more willing to try new things, which in turn will help them to learn.
Having confidence means they will be more likely to feel comfortable with themselves and like they have something worthwhile to give. We as parents can help children and young people develop confidence and self-esteem by how we act and what we say. The right guidance will raise kids who fully believe in their own ability to do things, have a genuine sense of their own worth, take responsibility for their actions and feel optimistic about life.
This blog post was written in collaboration with the lovely, talented South Wales family photographer Gemma Griffiths. Gemma approached me and asked if I’d like to write something on raising confident children with high self-esteem. As I’m an ex-teacher it’s a subject I know quite a bit about, so I jumped at the chance to share my knowledge.
Hope you enjoy, Rhi x