6 Ways to Raise Your Kid's Self-Esteem

Building self-esteem may be tough, but it's not magic. For a parent of a child with low self-esteem, watching your little one struggle can be a tough pill to swallow. But keeping your cool and taking in one step at a time is often the best solution. Learn from Jennifer Cassatly, a clinical psychologist who specializes in self-esteem for children and adults, the steps you can take to start building self-esteem.

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By Keren Perles

All kids—and adults—have feelings like “I can’t do it” and “Everyone is better than me” sometimes. But if these feelings occur frequently in your child, and cause pain and distress, then you need to take action. What can you do to build self-esteem? Jennifer Cassatly, a clinical psychologist who specializes in children and adults with low self-esteem, offers her answers.

Encourage Curiosity

You can encourage your child’s inquisitiveness—or stifle it. Show her that it’s great to be curious. Never respond to a question with “Do I look like an encyclopedia?” or any other mean remark. “The world is new and a mystery to them,” Cassatly says. “When we respond to their questions with sarcasm or dismissal, it can diminish their interest and enjoyment in the world.”

Try New Things

Be optimistic about taking on new challenges and learning new topics in your daily life, and your kid will pick up on it. And when she wants to try something new, help her make it happen. Show that you value her willingness and support her efforts, even if she’s not successful in it. “If parents are constantly talking about how they can’t do things, how they’re incapable, kids see it,” Cassatly says.

Give Praise … the Right Way

A common misconception about building self-esteem is that an abundance of praise can only help. In actuality, it depends how you praise. Don’t just praise the results; also praise the effort. Focus on how your kid earned a good grade or made the basketball team. Say, “You studied so hard for that test, and you must be so proud of yourself for getting that A!” or “All those hours of practicing in the driveway really paid off—you made the team!”

Avoid False Praise

Giving indiscriminate praise continuously is never a good idea. “If a child is clearly not talented in art, don’t say that he’s a future Picasso,” says Cassatly. “When kids go to school, they’re going to see more accurately how they compare to other kids. It’s important for them to know that not everyone excels in everything, and that’s okay.” Even if your child is gifted, stress the fact that she still needs to put in effort to succeed.

Help Your Kid Deal With Mistakes

Sympathize with your child if she makes a mistake, and encourage her to see them as stepping stones. If she’s emotionally destroyed by a mistake, she won’t develop self-esteem in a healthy way. Ask productive questions, such as “What happened there?” and “What could you do differently next time?” As much as possible, refrain from digging up past mistakes.

Emphasize Variation

Incorporate variation and diversity into your children’s life, which makes trying new things in the future easier. “If you’ve only eaten hamburgers, when you encounter Indian food, you may say, ‘No way! I’m not going to try that,’” Cassatly says. Expose her to new music, art and dance, talk with her about wide-ranging topics, and take her to places with many different types of people.

Eventually, your child will see the world as an exciting place filled with fascinating things to explore. Not only that, but she will feel more self-confident and comfortable with anything that life throws at her.

Oftentimes, kids who are quiet are mistaken for having low self-esteem, when in fact they're just introverts. If you think this could be your kid, read our article on raising an introvert in an extroverted world.

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