I recently attended a conference about wellbeing at schools. It was clear from the keynote speakers that children’s self-esteem is a key factor in social and emotional skills which in turn lead to having a positive wellbeing. This is backed by the 2015 (Issue 1) AISNSW ‘’ The Link which states: “Social and emotional skills such as self-esteem, perseverance and sociability are now recognised as vital requirements for children and young people if they are to be ready for a swiftly changing world.”
What is self-esteem? In a nutshell, it is how we feel about ourselves. It is undeniably very important in both our wellbeing and that of our children.
The parenting website, www.drsearswellnessinstitute.org, goes as far as to say that self-esteem is your child’s passport to a lifetime of mental health and happiness. Further to this, the website states that: “It’s the foundation of a child’s wellbeing and the key to success as an adult”. Moreover, children with high self-esteem have been found to perform better in school and sports, have better relationships, and have lower rates of problem behaviour (Taylor, 2010).
If a child has a low self-esteem, they most likely will not feel comfortable around new people or situations. They may feel awkward and avoid anything unfamiliar, be hesitant to take risks or move out of their comfort zone (Revermann, 2014). Furthermore, they may allow themselves to be treated poorly and have a hard time standing up for themselves. Having low self-esteem can block success and can leave children distracted by the stress of how to deal with everyday challenges (www.kidshealth.org).
Taylor (2010) argues that in the past, parents have been given the wrong message about self-esteem. He cites that parents were told to praise, reinforce and encourage their children no matter what they did.
Taylor (2010) explains that parents were led to believe that:”… their children never felt bad about themselves because it hurt their self-esteem. So, parents did everything they could to protect their children from anything that might create bad feelings… In sum, parents didn’t hold their children accountable for their actions.”
Interestingly, the supposed benefit of this mentality is that children’s self-esteem is protected. The train of thought was, if children are not responsible for all the bad things that happen to them, then they cannot feel bad about themselves and their self-esteem would not be hurt. Unfortunately, this approach created children who were selfish, spoiled and entitled.
How can parents nurture self-esteem?
• Love them regardless of how they perform
• Help your child learn to do things and then give them opportunities to demonstrate their competence
• While your child is experiencing success in an activity or skill, enable them to to try something more difficult - perhaps incorporating an area that is sometimes a challenge
• Avoid labelling strengths and weaknesses. This can foster a fixed-mindset and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, blocking progress that might otherwise have been made
• Praise your child, but do it wisely. Praise effort rather than results. Avoid over praising
• Ban harsh criticism. Phrases that attack character such as You’re lazy,are harmful and not motivating. When children absorb negative messages about themselves, they feel bad about themselves, and act accordingly. Equally, You’re smart is not helpful as this can lead to risk-avoidance where failure is a possibility. Instead, say something like You persevered well in that task
• Encourage your children to take risks and provide a safe relationship for them to return to, whatever the results of their risk taking
• Allow children to experience failure and then help them learn its essential lessons by not rescuing them from consequences (provided the child is not being harmed). At the same time, remind them of their successes and, where possible, that there will be other opportunities to try again in the future
• Set and discuss expectations for their behaviour and have consequences for bad behaviour. Perhaps have your children participate in the decision making around what such consequences will be
• Provide accountability
• Include them in decision making (see previous blog: https://www.stlukes.nsw.edu.au/blog/developing-independent-decision-making/
• Be a good role model.
(Taylor, 2010; www.kidshealth.org)
One must remember that self-esteem develops over time. If it is low, it can be raised.
Assistant Head of the Junior School
- 12 Ways to Raise a Confident Child. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/child-rearing-and-development/12-ways-help-your-child-build-self-confidence
- Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017 from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/self-esteem.html
- Revermann, S. (2014). The Effects of Low Self-Esteem in Children. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from http://www.livestrong.com/article/138859-the-effects-low-self-esteem-children/
- Taylor, J. (2010). Parenting: The Sad Misuse of Self-esteem. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201002/parenting-the-sad-misuse-self-esteem
- The Link: Where Research Meets Practice, 2015, Issue 1. The Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales.