How to Raise Self-Esteem in Our Children

Quite recently I stumbled upon an old school report of mine that was written when I was 9 years old. It read; ‘there is no dynamic change in Helen’s achievement,…. Writing still looks scraggy…… Presentation of work is still very immature…. Maths is plodding less wearily along.’ If my memory serves me correctly, the practical approach of teaching at my school was as austere at times as the written word of the dreaded school reports. My school was run by two spinsters of latter years who despite being worthy educationalists in their time, lacked a true understanding about the importance of pastoral care.

Self-esteem essentially is the evaluation of one’s own sense of worth. It is giving a child the ability and opportunities to be heard, to be listened to, to have a sense of belonging and a feeling of being able to contribute positively to any given situation, alongside being liked, respected and valued. In my opinion it is the greatest gift we can give to our children particularly in today’s society where they are growing up in such an uncertain world. The art of instilling self-worth and self-belief cannot begin too young. If we lay down the foundations in our young then over time the building blocks create a structure of a secure, happy and confident young adult.

So how can we go about it?

1. Praise. Praise is at the heart of every talk I give. I cannot emphasise it enough as one of the key tools to raising self-esteem. Praise makes us feel good about ourselves, it can motivate us to do more of the same, it helps us feel recognised and appreciated. What is key when we give praise is that we actually mean it, which with a truculent teenager isn’t always easy. However as Orr’s Law goes, ‘what the thinker think, the prover proves’. If all we think we see in our children is negative behaviour then that is all we will see. By finding the positive, and believe me I know how difficult that is sometimes, we then begin to find a more positive dialogue with our children. It is recommended that we praise on a ratio of 5:1, 5 positive statements for 1 challenge. I wonder how different our relationships with all young people would be would be if as a society we all adopted this ratio?

So how can we praise?

  • Verbal praise is the most readily available to us. From thanking our children for setting the table, to highlighting a moment when they have taken the initiative verbal praise sets a tone in the home that all children can respond to.
  • Stickers – to not underestimate the power of the sticker. I have known adults (and I’m one of them) to offer their souls in return for a sticker. Put them on a chart, in their books, on the wall wherever as a visual reminder of when they have achieved something worthy of praise. Use it as an active document to remind them of previous good behaviour, particularly at times when perhaps behaviour isn’t at its best.
  • The unexpected note – in the lunch box, in their P.E kit, under their pillow, stating your appreciation of something they have done. A quiet, sincere and discreet way of praising which is particularly good for those who find hearing praise difficult
  • Badges – youngsters love this one. Make a badge that states ‘ask me what I’ve done’ The youngster is given the badge to wear and they need to tell of their success to anyone who asks the question
  • The problem is that if you get particularly good at praising then it becomes the expected and the ordinary. Mix it up a bit by asking a significant other, whether that be grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher or family friend to ring up and praise them for a particular achievement. It will help create the sense of being recognised positively and therefore belonging to a wider community.
  • Carol Dweck, the world renowned psychologist, has thorough research found that children respond far better if we praise their effort rather than their intelligence. In an experiment a group of 9-10 year olds were given a set of simple Maths problems to solve. Half the group were praised for their effort half for their intelligence. What the scientists found was that children who had been praised for their effort recovered from that failure by the third test to achieve scores 30% higher than on their first test. Meanwhile, the students who were praised for their intelligence had scores that were 20% lower. Ms. Dweck’s conclusion: ‘You should praise children for qualities they can control, like effort’. It is the difference between a fixed and a growth mind set. Where self-esteem is concerned we want to continually promote the growth mind set.


2. Communicating and Listening. Finding the time for a two way communication with a child will go a long way in helping raise their self-esteem. We need to find time every day to have focused and uninterrupted time with our children. So in an increasingly busy world how can we do this?

  • Switch the technology off. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the heart wrenching scenario as children run from the playground eager to tell their parents or carers about the day only to walk home silently as the adult continues their conversation on their mobile phone apparently oblivious to the child’s need to share their experiences. In our home mobile phones buzz with the latest text or tweet, the laptop and tablet ping with emails urging us to stop and read them to, easy access to social media sites on all our technology keep us feeling as if we’re connected to the world, yet ironically perhaps, making us less connected with those we love the most, who are right in front of us. What messages are we giving to our children when they are talking to us and we have half an eye out on whatever the latest Facebook status is? Pledge to having some technology free time in the home and use this time to really a conversation with your child where you just spend some time chatting and most importantly listening to your child.
  • Have dinner with your children. In the UK we are the worst country in Europe for sitting down and having a meal with our children. As an adult I can think of nothing more sociable than sitting down with friends over a good meal and catching up with their news. So why wouldn’t I want to so this with my own children? Use this time to really find out about what’s going on for them. If your child just answers your questions with a yes or a no, try asking open ended questions such as ‘Tell me the best thing and the funniest thing that happened at school today’.
  • If you simply don’t have time to talk to your child when they ask to be heard let them know that it’s not a good time but schedule in a time when you will talk to them. Let them know that you do want to hear what they have to say. I will say to my children ‘you know what I really want to hear what you have to say and I can’t do that right now. So I promise in ten minutes when I’ve finished this I’m going to come and listen to you then because I can hear what you want to tell me then. Is that ok?’ It really is essential that you stick to your promise and make sure that you have that follow up conversation.


3. Promotions. I wonder if you can remember getting a promotion at work and how that made you feel. If you are like me, you may have felt a moment of feeling recognised, respected and trusted within the workplace. If we can actively promote our children in our homes we are pretty much setting up the same response. But don’t just give them household chores that we normally associate with children, i.e. tidying their rooms, loading the dishwasher etc., promote them based on what really makes them tick. If they bring home an amazing Macaroni Cheese from their Food Technology lesson, make them head chef every Tuesday night where they cook for the family. If technology is their thing find a way of promoting them to use their skills in supporting the families technology needs, if they are good with animals promote them to being the one who cares for the animals, or teaches the dog new tricks.

4. Tell them you love them. Never assume your child knows. Tell them, every day, show them every day. For any child who grows up with the certainty that they are loved will surely flourish as they grow into the secure, happy, confident young adults that we are striving for our children to become.

So here are some activities you can do that will help boost your child’s self-esteem:

  • Family appreciation cards – as a family each take a piece of paper and write down your name on it, pass the paper to the person on your right and ask them to write down one quality they really appreciate about the person. Keep passing the pieces of paper around until you have your paper back. Sit back and read what everyone in the family has written about you.
  • Beads of strength – get a piece of string and some coloured beads. Ask your child to select a different coloured bead to thread onto a piece of string. Each bead represents a different strength or ability that they have. Once they’ve completed it they can wear it as a bracelet or a necklace.
  • About me book – buy a scrapbook and help your child make a book all about what them, their likes/dislikes, their hopes, their dreams, their hobbies, their friends and family.
  • Marvellous me – help your child make a collage showing everything that is special about them. Go through old magazines and pick out words and images that they think apply to them.


By Helen Day, Pivotal Trainer[/is_user]

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