As a new school year begins, so does another opportunity for your child’s self-esteem to either soar or falter. Studies have shown that high self-esteem is an important component of academic success.
Issues with self-esteem usually crop up in the preschool years. “In the life of every child, usually sometime between birth and age six, something happens to have the child doubt him or herself. Someone says or does something that has the child believe that he or she is flawed, unlovable, not worthy, imperfect,” says Joe Rubino, M.D., an author and self-esteem coach.
The problem snowballs from there. “When children buy into the negative opinions about them from others, or interpret the words and actions of others in a way that diminishes their self-esteem or has them believe that they do not measure up to the standards of society, this causes them to look for evidence to reinforce their low self-opinion.”
So if they’ve decided they’re stupid, they’ll look for instances where others are smarter; if they think they have no talent, they’ll look for examples of other kids being more creative.
Jean Marcoux, a motivational speaker, author, and the co-founder of Still Waters International Ministries for underprivileged children, says, “When you speak negative to your children, you may destroy any sense of validity to their lives. You devalue them and may cause them to have low self-esteem that could last throughout their lifetimes.”
Marcoux says there are things you should never say to your kids, and things that you should say as often as possible.
Five things never to say to your children:
- You’ll never amount to anything.
- That was dumb!
- You’re a klutz!
- I really don’t trust you.
- Why can’t you be more like your big brother? He knows what he’s doing.
Five things you want to say often to your children:
- I love you.
- You’ll accomplish great things.
- It’s okay to make mistakes; that’s how we learn, and you’ll do better next time.
- Every day, I trust you more and more
- I’m proud of you!
Besides watching what you say, and how you say it, there are other ways you can help your child have higher self-esteem.
7 things you can do to nurture self-esteem in your children:
- Love your child unconditionally. “Remind children of their significance and that they are loved and accepted for who they are,” says Rubino.
- Every day, tell your child you appreciate a certain quality she possesses, or an action she took; is she kind to her playmates? Is she helpful around the house? Make sure it doesn’t go unnoticed.
- Help him understand that he's special. “Remind them regularly that everyone has unique gifts. Support them to identify what theirs are,” advises Rubino. That may be an artistic talent, or it may just be the ability to smile at others and make them feel good.
- Give your child opportunities to explore and foster her talents and passions by taking up a special hobby, interest, or activity. Does she love music? Maybe she wants to take piano or drum lessons. Does she enjoy painting? Look into age-appropriate art classes.
- Allow your child to make his own choices, which gives him confidence. Let him choose which outfit to wear, or which bedtime story to read; for young children, keep the available choices between two or three things.
- Teach your child that mistakes and problems are okay, and help her learn and discover new ways to do things. “Live by example,” adds Rubino. “Acknowledge when you make a mistake, do whatever is necessary to clean it up, and teach children the value of doing the same.”
- Help your child understand that what they do doesn’t affect who they are. “Distinguish bad behavior from being a bad person,” says Rubino. Did they specifically do what you told them not to do? It’s okay to tell your child why that’s not acceptable, but be sure to emphasize that they’re still a worthy and loveable person.