There’s no question that all parents want to encourage their children to move through life with self-assurance—but, when it comes to fostering self-esteem, the task isn’t so easy. Sometimes well-meaning comments can actually be counterproductive, so try these ten tips regarding cultivating confidence in children.
1. Eschew Labels
When a child succeeds, it’s tempting to shower them with praise about how clever they are, but this kind of response can actually be damaging in the long run. Children tend to absorb labels from others as a part of their identity. The danger here is that, once praised for having a certain trait, children fear doing anything that causes them to appear otherwise. One study showed that children praised for intelligence are less likely to push themselves because they fear failure.
2. Applaud the Process, Not the Result
Similarly, it’s important to focus approbation on the child’s effort rather than the results of their labor. For example, if they write a story, it’s better to ask questions or talk about the writing process rather than tell them that they wrote a good story. This feedback encourages them to pursue passions for the sake of the activity itself.
3. Encourage Risk-Taking
It seems hard to step back and let a child struggle, but it’s incredibly important for their self-esteem. If they see adults jumping in to rescue them when they’re having trouble, this behavior trains them to rely on that assistance. When they work out the answer alone, their belief in their own ability to succeed grows, even when the task is challenging.
4. Set Reachable Goals
It’s important to set up children so that they are able to succeed. When the task at hand is simply too difficult, an easier assignment may be just the ticket to boosting the child’s self-confidence and prepare them to tackle more demanding challenges.
5. Nurture Their Interests
Children naturally gravitate toward certain activities or subjects. Parents should pay attention to their children’s natural proclivities and do all they can to support them in pursuing their interests. If they really love history, for example, encourage this passion by finding ways to incorporate it into other lessons.
6. Indulge Their Dreams
Sometimes children fantasize about the future. Even when they have unrealistic expectations about their future careers or accomplishments, that’s okay. Correcting them shows a lack of faith in what they can accomplish and may damage their willingness to think creatively.
7. Let Them Help
Children derive a lot of self-worth when they receive permission to help with chores or other tasks, even if from a parent’s perspective the aid is not necessary or even especially helpful. Feeling that they are capable of contributing improves a child’s sense of self-worth.
8. Respond to Emotions
When children fail, parents sometimes instinctively give advice or criticism. The best way to reach a child is not by advising them, which may cause them to tune out emotionally. Rather, try to understand what they’re feeling and respond to that. Phrases such as “I can see why you’re disappointed” or “It must have been upsetting to get a C in math” open up the lines of communication and can lead to discussions about how to avoid a similar failure in the future.
9. Be Engaged
Children notice when adults aren’t fully with them. It’s not enough to physically be there. It’s important to stay engaged mentally and emotionally. This response shows children that they are worth the time and attention of others.
10. Demonstrate Unconditional Love
Children are more confident when they know that people value them for who they are, not what they do. The best way to nurture self-esteem is by showing the child that they are lovable and valuable regardless of their achievements. Tell them that just being the person they are is great by itself.