It wasn’t so long ago that parenting was parenting and how kids turned out didn’t matter, so long as they could contribute to society – by being a wage-earner, by having and raising children or by taking the professional route.
By that, we mean becoming a doctor, lawyer or politician. Becoming a captain of industry falls into a different category altogether.
Considering that those raised by parents in the ago – a time when self-respect in kids was unheard of, shaped our world, why should it matter today whether a child thinks s/he is good enough?
We’ll answer that question further into this article; for now, let’s look at parenting techniques that maybe do a child more harm than good.
Tiger Parenting, Helicopter Parenting and all of those Dreadful Games
The world was rocked a few years ago by a disturbing narrative of parental pressure.
Amy Chua coined the phrase ‘tiger mom’ in her 2011 autobiography to describe her mother’s unrelenting demands of academic, artistic and physical excellence.
The concept has other names: ‘Jewish mother’ – one who so craves academic and professional success that the child (and mother) feel continuously unhappy, the Japanese ‘Kyoiku mama’ dedicates most of her maternal influence towards their child’s educational and intellectual achievement and the American ‘Stage mother’, whose efforts are driven solely by ambitions of their child attaining superstardom.
You’ll note that all of these ‘mothers’ focus on the end-result: success for the child and, supposedly, heightened esteem for the family, as judged by an idealised social standing. In no way do any of these parenting styles reflect any sort of concern for the child. That would be the purview of helicopter parents.
Helicopter parents also abnormally drive their children but their unhealthy tactics are tempered by excessive protection and an interest in every aspect of their child’s life, even into adulthood.
Disturbingly, while painting a picture of care, under that veneer is the idea that their child is an investment – presumably in the parents’ own future, that they must protect.
Tiger parents and helicopter parents are equally likely to sign their kids up for endless extracurricular activities whether the child is interested in the activity or not. This type of manoeuvering leaves little time for the child to develop strengths or become a confident person.
One of the most critical tactics to boost self-esteem in children is to step back. Let them make decisions as soon as they can rationalise.
We’re not talking about asking a toddler how s/he wants to allocate monies for their college fund but to encourage your child’s ability to confidently choose their outfits is perfectly OK.
What about choosing their meals? Occasionally allowing them to do so is an excellent way for them to gain self-confidence but expecting the youngest members of your household to decide what the family will eat every day will cause them undue stress in the long run, especially if you regularly counter their suggestions.
So far, we’ve covered a lot of counterproductive tactics against instilling feelings of self-worth in kids. You must be curious about how to build your child’s self-esteem…
Ways You Can Help Your Child Develop Self-Confidence
Giving your child latitude has got to be the first step in helping a child gain confidence.
Generally, guidance is seen as a positive for parents. How to hold a fork or even which hand to hold a fork in, how to play a game such as Candyland or Monopoly; even promoting gendered clothing and toys are perceived as good parenting. Are they good, though?
What does it matter if your child is left-hand dominant, if he loves a pink sweater or if she wants to play a game using a set of made-up rules? The important thing is that your child feels empowered to make such decisions and that s/he experiences the consequences of them.
For instance, if s/he says that no shortcuts are allowed in Candyland, hold him/her that rule even if s/he changes her mind mid-game.
Letting your children make choices goes hand-in-hand with letting them take healthy risks. Why should you always pour them a glass of milk? Let your child pour their own milk and, if they spill, let them clean it up as well.
Of course, riding a skateboard without protective gear does not fall under the ‘healthy risk’ banner but letting your child decide when to take the training wheels off a bike definitely does.
Be sure to applaud their success.
Positive reinforcement is another key ingredient of building self-esteem in children. Naturally, you should not go wild with the praise – praising them excessively and for every little thing is not beneficial.
Still, if your child does something remarkable, maybe cleaning up spilt milk without being told to, that is certainly worthy of a compliment.
This saying, translated from French: ‘You have only done half of your duty’ should be a benchmark of where to lay praise.
If you child does something s/he was supposed to do anyway, there is no need for praise (though a thank you would be warranted). However, if s/he does an extraordinary thing… by all means, heap it on!
Well, no need for heaps. Just try a few sincere, well-chosen compliments. Be sure to specifically mention the praiseworthy action or behaviour so that s/he can learn important ways to contribute to the household and perhaps think of more ways to help the family.
The end-result of such targeted feedback is a child who will actively search for more ways to earn praise.
Your turn to chime in: which are the best books to help children build self-esteem?
Making Your Child Feel Special
Over the last couple of decades, the trend has been to make kids feel good and like they’re special, unique and far above average for the merest of accomplishments – whether they lack self-confidence or not.
If there were only a handful of children in the world, such a level of attention and feedback might be warranted.
When there are a handful of children in one household – let alone more than a handful of children in a nursery room or classroom, how long will it take for that child to feel that confidence and self-esteem are overblown?
Or worse: perceive others as inferior from the lofty perch s/he was told s/he holds?
Far more helpful to boosting self-esteem in children would be to make them feel wanted, valued and appreciated.
There are no new tricks or tactics to try and cultivate these feelings in your child; simply taking the time and giving them your undivided focus, even for just a few minutes at a time, is enough to convince your young ones that they matter.
Rituals can also help build self-esteem in children. You might, for example, brush your teeth together every night or take on regular, specific chores around the house such as cooking or sweeping up. You'll soon see that their feeling confident about these small things will shine - in school, in their interactions with people and in life.
Finishing with “Thanks, I couldn’t have done that quite so quickly without you” will make your child feel both valued and appreciated. More importantly, s/he will think about chores in a positive light rather than dreadful things that need to be done.
Trust your child with your full spectrum of feeling.
It is necessary that kids experience joy and comfort through you but just as vital that they learn about anger and disappointment.
Understanding that negative thoughts and emotions are just as valid as positive ones is vital to children learning how to manage their feelings, as much as learning the consequences of acceptable/unacceptable actions and behaviours is.
Finally, demonstrate unconditional love.
This love does not give them a free pass to naughtiness; it signals that, no matter what, you will accept them – even if you don’t accept the behaviour/action.
And If All of This Doesn’t Work?
At the start of this article, we asked: what does it matter whether a child has high self-esteem?
People constantly give themselves positive affirmations: 'I must be a good person because I have lots of friends', 'I’m smart because I’m good at my job' (or I get good grades in school), 'I’m worthy of esteem because many people like me'…
These positive reinforcements make it possible for us to negate self-doubt, to step forth into the world and do good deeds.
Why should building a sense of self be any different for a child?
We’re not saying that children are but small adults but they do have the same emotional needs; needs that must be met lest s/he suffer from a negative self-image and low self-esteem into and throughout adulthood.
For the parents of ‘ago’ who raised the children that built our world, there was no such thing as negative self-talk or building self-confidence. For them, esteem was earned through stock phrases like ‘Keep your chin up’ and ‘We must endure’ – attitudes prevalent in British culture still today.
But we know better. We know that the measure of the man or woman is not taken by any external variables but in how s/he measures him/herself.
How can one do that without a core of self-belief – in their worth, their value and their abilities?
Do you worry your child feels insecure? Try these new games and activities that will help your child boost their confidence.