When we ask parents what they would like their children to achieve by coming to work with us, something we often hear is ‘to build up their self-esteem.’

Perhaps their child is overly anxious, struggling to regulate their emotions, navigating difficult relationships or recovering from trauma or bullying. Whatever their specific struggles, self-esteem is something that can often be knocked and affected.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is something that we build through childhood and into adolescence and it only becomes more stable and enduring in adulthood.  In essence self-esteem is:

  • Liking and valuing ourselves
  • Something we have when we feel good about ourselves
  • Made up of our self-confidence, positive self-talk and appreciating and liking ourselves
  • Having a sense of belonging
  • Having a sense of our own identity
  • Feeling competent and capable

When a child is struggling in school it is likely that the balance between positive and negative feedback is tipped in the wrong direction. If they are struggling to ‘do the right thing’, the feedback from peers and adults can mean that they are constantly hearing about things that they didn’t do so well. And even if that feedback is well intentioned and sandwiched nicely in-between more positive, encouraging comments, a child who is struggling with their self esteem might only hear criticism (whether actual or perceived).

Also any adult or peer who is overly critical will have a negative effect on a child’s ability to build their self-esteem – the result of which can be that they are not able to ask for help and find it difficult to build healthy relationships.

As children’s self-esteem diminishes they can begin to:

  • Feel unmotivated
  • Become unsure of themselves and their abilities
  • Struggle with feeling able to cope with their mistakes
  • Feel frustrated, angry, anxious, or sad
  • Believe they are not good enough and are unable to see their strengths and talents
  • Lose interest and struggle to see the value in learning
  • Struggle with maintain friendships and connection with others
  • Lack assertiveness and confidence to stand up for themselves
  • Become more vulnerable to bullying or teasing

It’s not hard to imagine how even just a couple of these could start a child down the slippery slope of developing a more anxious, low, negative or stressed state of mind.

How can we help to build a child’s self-esteem?

When we give our children opportunities to work towards a goal, to feel accomplished and capable, we give them opportunities to build self-esteem.

When they succeed they feel good about themselves – the brain celebrates their win by releasing feel good chemicals (dopamine, endorphins and serotonin) and this then encourages them to seek out more opportunities to try it again or take the next, bigger step.

When Youth Fairies work with a child to build their self-esteem we spend time:

  • Encouraging them to talk about their achievements (however small)
  • Celebrating the steps they have taken towards their goals
  • Recognising their own unique, individual strengths
  • Encouraging them to take small positive actions

We also encourage them to harness the power of their imagination. The brain responses similarly whether something is really happening or you’re imagining it so we support them to picture and role play in their mind the outcome going really, really well. When they imagine, in vivid detail, the steps they are going to take and the positive outcome the brain logs this ‘imagined reality’ as a blueprint for their later success. So when they come to do the real thing they’ve mentally rehearsed it and hopefully feel more confident doing it for real.

If the goal they have achieved or their accomplishment was a stretch, and a little bit difficult they are actually learning that they are able to face and cope with new challenges. When we give our children opportunities to succeed but also opportunities to fail and try again, we are supporting them in developing a healthy self-esteem.

The benefits of positive self-esteem on children are:

  • They believe they are equal to others (no better, no worse).
  • They believe they are capable (making them positive about facing new challenges)
  • They can express their needs (and ask for what they need)
  • They recognise their strengths (and their weaknesses)
  • They can say no (when they want to, to ensure healthy boundaries)
  • They are motivated to reach their goal
  • They are confident and have a positive outlook

The good news is – it’s possible for you to support your child in building their self-esteem!

Firstly, WE can demonstrate it ourselves! Remember self-esteem comprises of self-confidence, positive self-talk and appreciating and liking ourselves:

  • Be aware of how you speak about yourself – you are a role model to your child and if you are talking negatively about yourself they may well start to pick up some of those habits too.
  • Value and appreciate things about yourself and do it out loud so your children can hear you.
  • Talk through how you failed at certain challenges but how you problem solved to overcome them.

Secondly, we can build them up:

  • Give them opportunities to succeed. This could even be little things like chores, making their own breakfast, paying at the counter or something involving a bit of responsibility that shows you have trust and believe in them.
  • Help them to recognise that failing is one of the steps to succeeding.  Give them praise for their effort and process or what they have achieved towards their outcomes. Then encourage them to reflect on what has not quite worked and identify small tweaks and changes they could make next time.
  • Praise them – sincerely – for their efforts and accomplishments.
  • Consider your use of language to address problems. If they’ve not behaved appropriately addresses the behaviour NOT them as a person.  For example, they are not a horrible, bad or naughty child – it’s the behaviour that was not okay and needs to be changed.
  • Talk about them positively to others – let them overhear you!
  • Give them choices and allow them to make their own (when appropriate) – even if you disagree.
  • Recognise and build on their strengths – point out what they’re good at and be specific.
  • Encourage them to problem solve and take autonomy for finding solutions – try not to give them the answer but instead help them recognise the skills they have to figure it out themselves.
  • Show them how much you care and love them – a lot! Feeling valued, appreciated and cared for will impact positively on self-esteem.

One final tip, and you can try this one for yourself too…

If your child is facing a challenge and feeling a little stuck in finding their own solutions ask them to recall previous successes and explore what it was they did that helped them to achieve that goal or solve that problem. Ask “when have you overcome this, or something similar before? How did you do that?  How might you use that past experience to help to overcome this difficulty you are facing now?

’There’s a lot of talk these days about giving children self-esteem. It’s not something you can give; it’s something they have to build. ” Randy Pausch (Author)