Many children are returning to classrooms after experiencing two years of COVID-19-related uncertainties—lockdowns, social distancing, remote learning, cases spiking then waning then spiking again. So, it isn’t surprising that, in addition to learning losses, surveyed educators are noting that students have also fallen behind socially and emotionally. Saying in effect that the pandemic’s disruptions have negatively impacted the already fragile self-confidence and self-esteem of the children in their care.
Understandably, parents everywhere are worried about their student’s ability to bounce back from these unprecedented times. Studies have shown for decades that children lacking in self-esteem will be reluctant to try new or challenging things because they’re afraid of failure and disappointment. That anxiety and habit of withdrawn passivity can end up holding them back as they grow older and even come between them and a successful career.
Of course, the opposite can also be true. Children who have high self-esteem tend to tackle the challenges they face more readily, have more success in school, and typically experience fewer personal and behavioral issues over time. Unfortunately, for parents, helping your child build that self-esteem can be tricky. Simply praising won’t be enough and overpraising children can do more harm than good. Raising a confident child will require more than compliments. Your kids will need help developing the skills to overcome challenges.
How Children Develop Self-Esteem
Children gain self-confidence and self-esteem slowly over time. It begins to develop when they feel safe, loved, and accepted, then it grows as they receive positive attention for being able to do more things by themselves. Kids feel better about themselves as they use new skills, and that burgeoning self-esteem is nurtured by parental attention, by letting kids try, then showing pride.
One of Connections Academy’s certified school counselors, Karen Muston, put it this way: “You can help your child feel more secure by reminding them that it is perfectly okay to fail or to be imperfect, since the best learning experiences happen through our failures. Make it a norm to talk about the challenges and failures on a regular basis and reframe those as a positive experience.”
Basically, anytime your children learn new things or try new things, the experience can boost their self-esteem, even when they fail. Here are a few examples of esteem-building opportunities:
Your Children Will Build Self-Esteem…
- By making progress toward their goals
- By feeling accepted and understood
- By practicing their favorite activities
- By helping, giving, and being kind
- By trying hard or doing their best
- By feeling included by their families or peers
- By learning new skills—whether related to sports, music, or another art
- By being acknowledged—winning a prize or getting a good grade they’ve earned
Build Confidence and Raise Self-Esteem
As you can see, building the confidence and raising the self-esteem of your kids will come down to doing three things: Making them feel capable and accomplished; ensuring that they know that their accomplishments impact those around them; and, finally, letting them know that you accept and value them by offering positive attention. Karen added, “Giving our full attention and actively listening is one way to show others that we love them. It is important to be fully present in conversations since this is how we convey our value for that person and their thoughts and feelings.”
Here Are 5 Ways to Improve Self-Esteem Depending on Your Child’s Grade Level:
Self-Esteem for Kids in Elementary School:
- Give them a simple task or chore to accomplish every day.
- Reinforce actions and consequences.
- Model good listening skills for them.
- Let them take healthy risks and make age-appropriate decisions.
- Be honest and give consistent and specific complimentary feedback.
Self-Esteem for Kids in Middle School:
- Model self-reflection for them.
- Promote exercise, good nutrition, and mindfulness.
- Include them in family discussions and decisions.
- Recognize their specific areas of strength.
- Encourage activities that develop their areas of strength.
Self-Esteem for Kids in High School:
- Remind them of their value as often as you can.
- Teach them problem-solving skills.
- Model flexible thinking for them.
- Encourage them to become active in your community through volunteerism.
- Guide them through setting challenging but achievable goals for themselves.
That last one is particularly important because, as Karen said, “Once they see they can successfully reach a goal, this tends to give them the confidence to achieve other goals that may be more challenging. It is also a good idea to celebrate every victory and point out their specific strengths that helped them to be successful.”
One thing you’ll have to remember to do at every age is to praise your children carefully. Praise can backfire. Don’t overpraise. Kids are sensitive, so when your praise doesn’t feel earned, it won’t ring true. Focus on effort rather than results or qualities they can’t control (e.g., smart, pretty, athletic). Instead, praise effort, praise progress, praise attitude. That way, your praise will be a reward rather than pressure to perform.
How to Raise a Confident Child
There are more ways to make a difference in your child’s self-esteem than we had space to list, so don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s International Boost Self-Esteem Month, so you’ll find fresh tools online, published with educators in mind, that you can use at home. It’s possible to boost your child’s self-esteem, if you help them feel secure, loved, and capable, but all of these elements must work together.
If you are interested in learning how you can be more involved in your children’s education and enjoy opportunities to help them build character and develop self-confidence and self-esteem, you might also be interested in this article.