Every parent wants to prepare their child adequately for the world ahead, but the question of how to develop self-esteem in a child does not have a straightforward answer. All children have different requirements as their personalities develop.
Parents first need to accept that there is no magic fix, and that there’s only so much you can do. However, psychologists do have a few tips on how to sow the seeds for healthy self-esteem early on.
Ways to promote self-esteem development in early childhood
- Identify their strengths: Praise them when they do something well, but don’t offer empty praise like “Wow! That’s pretty good”. It’s better to offer what’s referred to by the Child Development Institute as “descriptive praise”, for example: “I love the way you draw, there’s such attention to detail”. Also, only offer such praise when you truly mean it. A lot of children can sense when they’re being patronised.
- Don’t project your interests onto them: If you’ve noticed that your child has developed a certain interest or hobby, encourage them in their pursuit of it. Don’t try to push them in the direction of things that you find interesting.
- Encourage positive self-talk: According to the Child Development Institute: “What we think determines how we feel and how we feel determines how we behave.” By teaching your child to encourage themselves, even in situations where they appear to have failed (such as getting a bad mark for an exam, or being on the losing team in a soccer game), you can help them develop a resilience against failure.
- Assign chores: Encouraging children to accept responsibility for certain tasks, whether it’s doing the dishes, feeding the dog or sweeping the floor, will improve your child’s confidence, and hopefully prevent them from developing a sense of entitlement.
- Encourage them to make decisions: It can start off being about simple things, like offering them a choice between two kid-friendly restaurants to go for dinner. As time goes on, you can offer them more complicated choices, and congratulate them when they make a good decision.
- Allow them to resolve their own disputes with peers: While you can offer them advice, and perhaps step in if the situation is really serious, for the most part it’s good for a child’s social development to resolve conflicts themselves, rather than have overprotective parents get involved every time.
- Encourage a sense of humour: Teach them not to take themselves, or life in general, too seriously. Especially in this age of social media and rampant online bullying, seeing the humour in it will strip it of its power, and help children develop a thicker skin.
- Spend one-on-one time with them: This gives them a chance to discuss things with you and expand their understanding of the world and themselves.
- Criticise when necessary, but don’t let it become ridicule: Children need to learn to accept criticism early on, so they can respond to it appropriately as they get older. However, criticism that comes in the form of ridicule, sarcastic comments or angry insults won’t help them in that regard.
- Set a good example: Leon F Seltzer Ph.D. writes on Psychology Today that “kids are influenced much less by the words they hear than the actions they see”; and “parents must model problem-solving approaches that inspire the child to follow their lead”. Children pick up a lot from their parents, so you may find that, in the process of developing self-esteem in your children, you’ll be developing it in yourself as well, by learning to approach problems with a calm head.
You can learn more about child psychology by studying at SACAP, and if the idea of working with children appeals to you, the college offers a range of psychology courses that can pave the way for a career in child psychology. Either way, it will help you develop skills that can make you more effective at dealing with people in general. For more information, enquire now.