Of the numerous adults in a child’s life, parents are in the best position to offer their child encouragement and promote positive self-esteem – and it’s really not difficult.
In our psychotherapy practices parents sometimes express concern that their child is critical of their own talents and abilities, easily frustrated, and frequently blaming others for their shortcomings. They may describe their child as avoiding trying new activities or simply avoiding a new task altogether. All of these concerns can indicate a child needs a boost in their self-esteem.
Encouragement is one of the most important aspects of parenting. It is a way to promote positive self-esteem in children. A child with positive self-esteem is more likely to act independently, assume responsibility, attempt new tasks, tolerate frustrations and demonstrate personal resilience.
In our practices, we suggest parents think of encouragement as a process by which they communicate feelings of confidence, faith and respect to their children. Encouragement can be given for attempts, with success, or at times of failure. Here are some guidelines to highlight this process.
• Reasonable struggles are good for children. They help build “emotional muscle” or resilience. Don’t be too quick in offering a solution. Help your child explore their options, and give credit for attempts even if it didn’t work out well. Watching your child struggle is difficult for parents. Remind yourself they need to practice finding their own solution.
• Generally it is best to learn from our own efforts. Don’t do for your child what they can do for themselves. As a parent, think about what you can do to help your child operate more independently. For young children have accessible cups and small containers of milk, juice or water so they are able to pour their own drink. Perhaps a small broom and certainly an undersized snow shovel.
• Separate the “deed” from the “doer”. Place your emphases on the task not the result. Your child is always a “valuable person”. Failure indicates a lack of skill and in no way affects the basic value of your child. Help your child find the courage to be imperfect. Mistakes are human. As parents it can be helpful to admit your own imperfections.
• Foster “intrinsic satisfaction”. Focus on how your child feels about their efforts or accomplishments as opposed to your own reaction. Say things like “You must feel good about working hard and doing well on your social studies test!” As parents, you want a child to work hard and master tasks because they themselves find value in doing so, and not simply as a way of pleasing their parent.
• Take risks in giving responsibility to your child. Trust should be mutual so give demonstrations of your confidence. Help your child find his place through usefulness. You may need to break down a responsibility into several small steps. Teaching a 5-year-old child to safely cook scrambled eggs (under your supervision) is a great way for them to feel like a contributing family member who can provide breakfast (and start to learn to cook).
• Look for “Islands of Competence”. Robert Brooks, Ph.D, uses this phrase to describe activities where a child uses their strengths. Parents can value, encourage and reinforce a child’s strengths. All of us build on our strengths not our weaknesses. Help your child grow and expand their “islands of competence”.
• Promote “I think I can” thinking in your child. Positive self-talk is a crucial skill for developing tenacity. Having the courage to try again in the face of failure isn’t easy. Parents can help by praising attempts and focusing less on the outcome.
Watching your child grow into a confident, resilient person is a great reward of parenting. Children of all ages respond to encouragement. Applying the above guidelines to interactions with your child will help foster positive self-esteem – something you can both feel good about!