Improving Your Child’s Self-Esteem:
A ‘Ten Tip’ Special!

by The Coping Counselors

One of the more challenging aspects of parenting a child or adolescent can be helping to build positive self-esteem. You, as the parent, may notice that your child exhibits lower-than-desirable self-esteem when they are easily influenced by others (especially peers), consistently have trouble making their own decisions, are afraid to try new things, and/or appear to have a low overall confidence level.

Much to a parent’s relief, there are many times when a child’s low self-esteem is simply a response to social expectations and pressures that they have begun to encounter through their childhood development rather than as a result of their upbringing.

Still, parents often feel helpless and don’t know how to assist their children to feel better about themselves. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some parents who do not recognize that their child is feeling the pain of low self-esteem, and still others who notice it but simply ignore it, believing that things will just get better with time.

It is important to realize that it takes a great deal of time, effort, and patience to help a child build confidence. Every good parent wishes to create and cultivate the most positive self-esteem in their child. However, knowing how to do this can be quite a challenge.

The following tips have been designed to help you improve communication with your child and foster an environment that can be very helpful in nurturing your child’s self-esteem.

1. Find a Balance

Parents can be quick to express negative feelings to children– for example to re-direct an improper behavior, correct their speaking, or discipline them for disobedience—however, some may overlook the importance of expressing consistently warm and loving feelings towards the child.

Frequent and consistent criticism about a child’s feelings and behaviors can lead the child to think and feel negatively about themselves. As a result, they take on the belief that they are “bad” and may feel they are being rejected by their parents. They begin to feel very alone and may withdraw from their relationship with their parents, peers, and other adults.

As they get older and enter adolescence, they may develop anxiety about themselves and the world around them, feeling incapable of making their own decisions and forming healthy relationships.

As you begin to envision how your child’s life could unfold in this type of scenario, you may acknowledge that it can be a pretty grim picture.

The good news, however, is that many parents recognize that criticism and discipline alone is not an effective form of parenting.

While we acknowledge that discipline is certainly an important aspect of parenting, try not to underestimate the importance of balancing this with support, kindness, encouragement, and unconditional love. This can help a child form both good behavior and positive self-esteem, which should be the goal of any parent.

Some parents don’t realize how memorable a person’s childhood can be. A positive experience (meaning an appropriate balance between firm parenting and love) in one’s childhood can determine how a person grows developmentally and emotionally. It can mean the difference between children who learn to be strong and independent versus those who rely on others to make their decisions and control them.

How can you help your child to feel good about him or herself when discipline is a necessary aspect of parenting? Try to find a consistent balance between the amount of criticism and positive feedback that is given to a child.

The purpose of discipline is to correct a behavior and should not be used to make a child feel guilty or otherwise bad about himself/herself.

Use discipline when necessary, and be cosistent with this in order for your child to respect you. In addition to this, “catch them being good!” Praise them for handling situations appropriately, for using correct behaviors, and for things they do that are favorable. (Therefore, be sure you’re not focusing only on the negative behaviors.) It’s better to go overboard on the encouragement rather the negativity!

Children may not always know when you are feeling good about them, so make sure they know you are proud of them and love them. Even though some children may not react to your positive statements, remember…they are listening! Some children tend to store these statements in their minds and “replay” them in order to feel good all over again. (You can see how something like this would have a definite effect on self-esteem.)

2. Use Praise and Encouragement

To let children know they are doing something well, praise them! Although it may not appear to make a difference, frequently giving them positive feedback can have a major long-term effect on how they view themselves.

Try getting into the habit of finding situations where a child is doing a good job or displaying a talent. When your child completes a task or chore, you might say, “I really like the way you straightened your room. You found a place for everything and it’s all in the right place!” When you observe them displaying a talent, you could say, “I really like that last piece you played. You really have a lot of musical talent.”

Don’t be afraid to give praise in front of friends or family.

It is also important to use praise for something they correctly did not do. For example, “When I told you ‘no’, I really liked that you didn’t lose your temper.” By giving your children frequent praise when they are doing something well, you are slowly building up their self-esteem and giving them the confidence to develop into well-rounded and independent children. Without such encouragement, children may begin to doubt themselves and these consistent perceptions can negatively affect their ability to make decisions, stand up for what they believe in, and trust themselves.

3. Teach Positive Self-Talk

We talk to ourselves all the time, whether it’s conscious or not. You may find that you talk yourself through a problem or situation or calm yourself down when you’re upset. For some, it’s that “voice” that helps to make decisions, understand emotions, and determine what to do when in crisis.

There are two forms of self-talk: positive and negative. Positive self-talk includes statements or thoughts that have a more positive and optimistic connotation, one that has the purpose of “helping.” On the contrary, negative self-talk tends to include more pessimistic thoughts that are present when we are upset, angry, or feeling depressed. These types of thoughts tend to sink people into more negative thoughts or feelings, ultimately leaving them feeling more depressed and hopeless.

Mental health professionals have found that negative self-talk tends to be a factor in depression and anxiety while implementing positive self-talk can dramatically improve these feelings.

Since our thoughts determine how we feel, and how we feel determines how we behave, self-talk can be a tremendously beneficial tool in overcoming life’s challenges and maintaining a healthy emotional well-being. It is therefore important to teach children to be positive about how they “talk to themselves”.

Some examples of self-talk include:

· “I can solve this problem, if I just keep trying” (positive) versus “I will never be able to solve it. I may as well just stop trying. It’s useless” (negative).

· “It’s okay if our team lost today. We all tried our best and you can’t win them all” (positive) versus “I am so mad we lost. We are such a bad team, I don’t even know why we bother trying. Maybe I should quit” (negative).

One of the best ways to teach your child positive self-talk is to demonstrate it- with yourself, with others, and as often as possible. In addition to this, help your child re-visit their problem situations by exploring how they could have thought about it or reacted in a more positive way.

4. Separate the Deed from the Doer

It has long been recommended that parents/guardians avoid telling children that they are bad. If a child does something wrong, focus on helping the child recognize what it was about their behavior that was inappropriate or intolerable. Saying, “What you did was bad…” instead of “YOU were bad…” can make a difference.

Remember, while the child’s behaviors may be wrong, the child still needs to feel loved, no matter what he/she does.

5. Make Constructive Suggestions

As a parent, there are times when it is appropriate and essential to criticize a child’s actions (notice we’re saying “criticize the actions”, and not “criticize the child”!). However, when the criticism involves wording that makes the child feel ridiculed or shamed, this can adversely affect self-esteem.

It is important to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements when giving criticism. For instance say, “I would like you to keep your clothes in the proper place in your closet or drawers, not lying all over your room” rather than “Why are you such a lazy slob? Can’t you take care of anything?”

Initially, as you work on this tip, think about how you would feel if someone were criticizing you in a similar way. Would you be comfortable hearing the language used?

One of the goals of parenting is to teach a child correct behaviors and help them learn appropriate methods of fixing their mistakes, not putting them down to achieve the same result.

6. Teach Good Decision-Making

Children make decisions all the time, but are often not aware that they are doing so. The first point to remember (and although it seems obvious, it is often forgotten) is to allow your child to make decisions on their own (age-appropriate of course, and within reason).

Some parents have trouble releasing enough control over their child to allow them to make their own choices, which ultimately leads a child to think they are not capable of making those decisions on their own. This has a direct effect on self-esteem because it has a bearing on the degree to which the child has confidence in their ability to make choices for themselves. Some of these parents admittedly only wish to protect their child, and believe that making decisions for them is in their best interest, but it’s important to know how and when to take a step back and allow the child to grow.

The good news is that there are a number of ways parents can help children improve their ability to consciously make wise decisions:

· When trying to make a decision, help the child clarify the problem at hand. Ask them questions that can help them pinpoint how s/he sees, thinks, and feels about a situation, and what may need to be changed.

· Brainstorm together about possible solutions to a problem. Usually, there is more than one solution or choice to a given dilemma, and parents can make an important contribution by helping the child come up with options. A word of caution: this is the point where it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of making the decision for the child. Sometimes, even without realizing it, you may see that your child is struggling with the “right’ or “appropriate” solution to the problem, and in an effort to help them, you make the decision for them. However, if you find yourself in this sport, it might be more beneficial to help your child come up with alternatives, talk them through it, and help them see that they are capable of coming up with a good decision.

· After the child fully considers the consequences, allow them to choose one of the solutions that s/he feels is the most appropriate and comfortable for them. The best solution will be one that solves the problem, has minimal negative consequences, and simultaneously makes the child feel good about him or herself.

· Evaluate, with the child, the results of the particular solution. Did it work out well or did it fail? If so, why? Reviewing the tactics will equip the child to make a better decision the next time around.

7. Be Consistent

All children need parenting to help them learn and understand appropriate ways of behaving. Children especially need guidance and direction during the early part of their lives.

One of the ways they learn is by “modeling,” which refers to ways in which an individual learns by watching others. In this case, children learn how to behave and speak by watching you. This is why it’s so important to be a role model to your children and display behaviors you wish to see in your child.

The other, even more important, way that children learn what behaviors are correct and appropriate is through discipline. Young children often behave as a result of their impulses and instincts, which are still very new. You, as the parent, have the tough job of molding your child into a human being that acts appropriately, speaks with respect, follows the rules, and learns how to make effective right vs. wrong decisions. This is done through consistent parenting.

When you see negative or unfavorable behavior, especially in very young children, it’s important to re-direct your child and put them on the right path. When this is done consistently, you will find that your child’s behavior starts to improve.

The other area of parenting that is extremely important for consistency, whether you’re talking about a young child or an adolescent, is following through on what you say. For example, if you tell your teenage daughter that she cannot go out on Saturday night if she doesn’t complete her chores for the week, then it is very important that you stick to your decision and follow through on the consequence.

Children and teenagers will begin to understand what they can get away with, and they will, when given the chance! You will also be helping them learn how to take responsibility for their actions, and understand that certain actions do have consequences. By not following through with the “threatened” consequences, you are, in essence, teaching your child that s/he can do whatever s/he wants!

So when it comes to your child’s behavior, the consequence, or your decision about the behavior, consistency is one of the most important factors in getting the outcome(s) you desire.

8. Be Firm, But Fair

Parents often get frustrated when their children disobey their rules or misbehave. Parenting can be a difficult job, especially if you feel that you are constantly re-directing your child or punishing them for their behavior or attitude.

Keep in mind that you are only helping them in the long run, and it will pay off once you see your child develop into a responsible, well-developed individual. For the time being, however, hopefully, you are doing your best to deal with the frustration that goes along with this aspect of parenting.

Although frustration can easily lead to anger, it is very important to remain as calm as possible. Remember that by yelling at your child for misbehaving, you are sending mixed signals to your child. First, you are teaching them that it’s okay to allow your emotions to get out of control when dealing with a problem. Second, you may be creating fear in your child to behave properly, rather than teaching them the right path and helping them grow for it. And third, for some parents and children who seem to be in a tug-of-war fight over control, when you get to the boiling point and start to yell, they may feel as if they’ve won the fight. So there are a number of reasons that shouting can be counter-productive when parenting your child.

Does that mean it will never happen? Probably not! You are human, and your emotions will flare from time to time. However, if you can begin practicing keeping your cool and maintaining a calm attitude, you may find that the outcome is more favorable and your good relationship remains intact.

How do you balance discipline and your emotions, especially when your child frustrates you to your boiling point? Try to keep in mind a phrase that successful parents have used in the past – “firm but fair”. By being firm in your parenting beliefs, following through with threatened consequences, and expecting your child to uphold your family rules, you will consistently be expressing the “firm” expectations that you have for them. By keeping the consequences fair and ensuring these expectations are realistic, you are upholding fairness with your child.

Some of the best parents have held this attitude and had successful outcomes with their children. As mentioned above, consistency is a key aspect in making this work!

9. Withdraw From Conflict

If a child is throwing a temper tantrum (which may only be to test you) or speaking

disrespectfully, it may be advantageous for parents to leave the room and tell the child to come back when they want to “try again” the right way. By lowering yourself to their level of frustration, you may only be aggravating the situation and allowing the child to win the battle.

It’s important to teach your child that it’s not okay to allow their emotions to explode. Therefore, by “taking a break” from the situation and giving them a chance to calm down, you are reinforcing this teaching. In addition, by you not erupting in anger and frustration, you are also modeling this behavior.

While children may need a time-out from time to time to correct a behavior or calm down, parents need this time as well! It will buy you some time to take some deep breaths, cool down, gain a clearer perspective on what the problem is, and formulate a thought process about how to proceed.

10. Finally, Enjoy Your Children

Hang out with them! Spending time with your children is essential in building a good relationship and maintaining the connection.

If you haven’t already gotten the sense already, balance is a key aspect to successful parenting. Balance your discipline with love. Balance your emotions when in a confrontation with your child. And most importantly, balance the negative and the positive interactions you have together. The positive interactions will turn out to be so much more rewarding to both you and your child!

Finding the right balance, increasing positive interactions, and displaying your love to your child will also help him/her build positive self-esteem.

Every child needs discipline to learn the right paths of life, but they also require your time and your unconditional love. Try to not assume your child automatically knows you love them…show them! Spend quality time with them and show them you care enough to give them your undivided attention.

While it’s extremely valuable for families to spend time together, one-on-one time is equally as important. It helps to develop and maintain the relationship, and also gives your child time to talk with you if something is going on in his/her life. For better or worse, our children learn from our examples. Spending time with each child facilitates better communication. Your child can share thoughts and feelings more openly. You can provide acceptance and (when needed, at reasonable frequencies) guidance.

Be heavy on the listening as well as providing lots of praise and encouragement. You’ll notice that your child will benefit from one-on-one time with each parent as well as time spent all together. Each aspect of the child’s familial relationships are significant in the growth, and learning, process.

How Can We Help?

Many people from all over the world have benefited from the successful, strategy-packed mental health services offered by The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping. You can, too!

  • If you have questions about any of the issues you are dealing with, why not set up a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Coping Counselors.
  • Simply call us at (516) 822-3131, with any questions or to set up your free appointment.
  • Or e-mail us at We’ll be happy to respond to your e-mail.

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