With the media focused on bullying, school shootings, anti-drug movements, and mental health issues, it’s no wonder that we hear a lot about self-esteem. What many parents may not realize is that they can help build healthy self-esteem with small changes to their everyday routines.
- Allow them to lose, to not get their way, and to hear the word no. Contrary to what you may think or even feel, saying no to your child will not scar them for life. In fact, saying no teaches your child that they cannot always do or get what they want. If you always focus on reaching yes, you are crippling their present and future self-esteem. These children become so accustomed to winning/hearing yes that when they finally hear the opposite (which will happen) it becomes an overwhelming and crushing blow to their confidence. By showing your children that you can lose gracefully, be happy for others, and positively deal with disappointment you are creating wonderful building blocks for positive self-esteem.
- Find teachable moments. All parents are busy—like, really busy! But it’s important to take advantage of teachable moments. If your child is talking about something that happened at school, even if they weren’t involved, ask them about it directly: “What would you do if that had happened to you?” Ask questions and spark conversations. As a therapist, I always recommend family dinner as the perfect teachable-moment time.
- Encourage socialization. Not every child is born with the innate desire to make and keep friends. Sometimes it is a struggle. While school and extracurricular activities tend to foster healthy socialization, it doesn’t always help everyone. If your child tends toward introversion, help them take baby steps to being more outgoing. Dinner, again, is a great time to get started. Try doing some fun role playing at the dinner table. Let’s pretend we are in a foreign place where we don’t know anyone—how would we get around? What would we say or ask the locals?
You also can create daily dinner topics. Every person at the table shares something related to the topic. Today’s topic is summer activities. What is your favorite thing to do in the summer and why? This method will help your children relax more and associate speaking with a sense of ease. Continue with this process, even with company visiting! Public speaking is a very essential part of positive self-esteem.
- Watch what you, the parent, are saying. Sometimes what may appear to be a harmless statement to you could be devastating to a child. While you shouldn’t unnecessarily shield your children (going along with point number one), you can be mindful of certain topics. For example, try your best not to compare. Your child may already compare themselves to a sibling or friend. What you may think is benign—You know, Joey has a lot of fun at soccer; why don’t we sign you up?—may lead to them thinking that they’ll never be as good as Joey. Rephrase the same thought: I was trying to think of something fun you could do after school. Do you have any ideas? No leading, no directing—just a standard question. If you have to, offer suggestions: soccer, art class, piano lessons, etc. By rephrasing the question, you can potentially lessen the threat of comparison.
This method applies to academics, too. When one of your children thrives academically while the other struggles, it can be a real challenge watching your language. Try incorporating friendly reminders that everyone is different and that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Use yourself as an example. You know, I wasn’t great at math when I was in school, but I was great at English. It’s really hard to be good at everything! You can teach older siblings to do the same. You also will want to have a good understanding of who YOU are. Kids can sense when you are not happy about yourself and this can trickle down and affect their own self-esteem. Lead by example.
- Get creative! As your friendly Creative Art Therapist I know firsthand just how empowering the creative arts can be. Using music, dance, drama, and art is a fantastic way to build and sustain healthy self-esteem. Getting creative allows for a judgment-free zone, something our kids rarely get! This is because art is truly in the eye of the beholder. What you see as a big ol’ painting mess could be a self-expression of feelings. That loud rap music that you just don’t get could be your child working on problem solving. Dancing until bedtime, making tons of noise—well, maybe he or she is relieving some stress.
Encourage any type of creativity that your child gravitates toward. And whenever possible, get creative with them! I like to recommend family scrapbooking: everyone gets to create their own page about who they are, what they love, what they hate, and what they feel. This can be a great coffee-table book that your family can use as a reminder of how every single person is special in their own way.
Try using these helpful tips even when your children are toddlers. Just like keeping a muscle healthy and in shape, self-esteem requires hard work, consistency, and discipline. Start early and continue to work on this very important “emotional muscle” as your child continues to grow. Many childhood mental and emotional diagnoses stem from poor self-esteem. If you believe your child’s self-esteem is deficient or you have any concerns, reach out to your local therapist or school counselor for assistance.