Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA
Parents’ words and behaviour have an enormous impact on child’s self-esteem (SE) and self-confidence (SC). Carefully chose your words and watch what your behaviour communicates to your child. Kids require a healthy SE in order to have high SC. Only when kids think positively of themselves can they accept their achievements for what they are.
So what can you do to start raising your child’s SE right away? It’s simple!
Here are a few ideas to get you started. Grab a pen and paper and think about how you typically relate to your child as you read each point. Draw a line down the middle of the paper. On one side write down the typical wording you use (call it typical column) and on the other write down better, more encouraging words you can use instead (call it positive column) when communicating with your child. Write them down and study them!!! This way you will be able to recall the right words when you need them (even when you are tired, running on a short fuse, or caught off guard).
1. Encouraging comments: Even if your child didn’t succeed, always provide encouraging comments first (e.g., “That was a really good try, I liked your initiative and novel approach.”). It can be difficult to provide positive feedback, however when she obviously didn’t put in the effort required but regular comments like “You could have done better,” “That wasn’t done that well” can and will lead to feelings of ‘nothing I do is ever good enough.’ This belief (and others like it) is conditioned once she continues to receive these types of feedback. Start off on a positive note and relate the good stuff first.
2. Connect the dots: Discuss the reasons for failure. If your child didn’t put enough effort into the activity in question, it is important she understands failure was due to lack of preparation or not enough practice. This is different from believing it is her personal inability to be awesome. As such, your child is more likely to conclude “If I practice hard enough, I will be able to succeed,” instead of “Doesn’t matter how hard I try, I don’t have the ability to learn.” Let her know that not doing well was due to a poor choice and choices can always be changed. Comments like “You’ve got some natural talent. With extra practice you’ll ‘ace it’ or “Some things really do require more effort to be done well, what can you do differently next time?” connect the dots for your kids. What is obvious to you may not be obvious to them.
3. Encourage independence: Independence produces feelings of mastery which increases SE. It is important, however to recognize when a task is too hard for your child. Not all activities are age appropriate. By providing a mix of independence and a helping hand you teach her to stretch her abilities but to also know when to get help. It also sends a message that it is OK to get help. Comments such as “Look how far you have gotten on your own. What did you learn? How did you ever think of that!?!? That is awesome! You know I have some ideas too. Can I share?” If your child asks to be left to it alone, let her continue on her own. Pushing unwanted help onto your child can lead her to conclude that you don’t have faith in her abilities. Over time this can translate into feelings of inferiority. Leaving your kids to complete a task means you trust them enough to work it out on their own. Let them know you have fresh ideas when they are ready for them.
4. False beliefs: False beliefs are highly responsible for low SE and SC. Watch your kid’s verbal and behavioural patterns (they are a clue to what is going on in the mind) and ask questions. Get to the bottom of things so you can understand your child’s insecurity. Let’s say you notice your child speak badly about herself when she receives a low grade, your conversation with her can go something like this: “Why do you speak so meanly to yourself when you get a low grade? What does this grade mean about you? Are grades the only way of measuring how smart you are (or good enough)? Is it fair that you are mean to yourself based on your performance on this test? Why is it so important that I am happy with your grade? Would I love you more if you got a better grade? What makes you think that? Did I ever imply by accident that I would love you less if your grades were lower? Tell me so I don’t make the mistake again.). The more you understand the root cause of the belief, the more you can help her.
5. Famous people and role models: Role models are always great inspiration. Having a role model (AKA hero) works even better when the person is from the same field as the child’s interests (e.g., musician, visual artist, scientist, etc.,). If your child gives up before giving things a fair chance or tends to avoid things she thinks she can’t do, provide examples of the struggles her hero went through and how she had to try many times before the hero achieved her goal (e.g., Thomas Edison tried 10 000 times before he got the electric lamp to work; Einstein was considered to have a learning disability (some even speculate autism) and was told he would never amount to much). The great thing about all these wonderful people is they all faced adversity but believed in themselves the entire way. This belief lead them to success.
Best Wishes to your Family!
Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto