Self-esteem is feeling good about yourself. Good self-esteem helps children try new things, take healthy risks and solve problems. It gives them a solid foundation for their learning and development.
Self-esteem: the basics
Self-esteem is about liking yourself and who you are. This doesn’t mean being overconfident – just believing in yourself and knowing what you do well.
For children, self-esteem comes from knowing that you’re loved and that you belong to a family that values you. It also comes from being praised and encouraged for the things that are important to you, and from feeling confident about the future.
Nurturing your child’s self-esteem
Tell your child that you love her. Say it often and for no reason other than to show you appreciate your child.
Here are more tips for nurturing your child’s self-esteem.
- Give your child a sense of her family, culture and community. Help her to know about relatives, family, family history and cultural beliefs and practices.
- Encourage your child to value being part of your family. One way to do this is by involving children in chores. When everyone contributes to the smooth running of the household, you all feel important and valued.
- Make your child’s friends welcome and get to know them. Encourage your child to have friends over to your house, and make time for your child to go to their houses.
Time and activities
- Develop family rituals. These could include a story at bedtime, a special goodbye kiss or other ways of doing things that are special to your family.
- Help your child try hobbies that he’s interested in. But don’t push your child to do something that he’s not keen on, or not good at.
- Let your child help you with something, so that she feels useful. For example, your school-age child could help you set the table for dinner.
Achievements and challenges
- Encourage your child to think about how to solve problems. When you help your child with problem-solving, you’re giving him the tools he needs to cope with life’s challenges.
- Celebrate achievements and successes, whether they’re big or small. Encourage siblings to recognise each other’s successes, and tell other people about them (without going overboard).
- Keep special reminders of your child’s successes and progress. You can go through them with your child and talk about your special memories, and the things she has achieved.
Spend quality time with your child. Listen to him, and help him learn new things and achieve goals. When your child is younger, this might mean praising and encouraging him when he learns something new, like riding a bike or writing his name. For older children, it might be taking them to sport on the weekend, helping them practise during the week, and taking an interest in what they value.
Things that can damage children's self-esteem
Messages such as ‘You are slow, naughty, a bully, a sook …’ say something bad about children as people. If a child does something you don’t like, it’s better to tell her what she could do instead. For example, ‘You haven’t done your homework. You need to sit down now and finish your maths questions’.
Threatening to leave children if they don’t do what you want, or messages that imply that life would be better without them, might harm children’s self-esteem. For example, ‘If it weren’t for the children, we could afford a new car’.
Ignoring children, treating them like a nuisance, not taking an interest in them, or sending any message that you don’t like them – these things are likely to be bad for children’s self-esteem. An example might be, ‘I am sick and tired of you.’ Frowning or sighing all the time when your child wants to talk to you or ask you for something might have the same effect. All parents do this occasionally. But if you do it all the time, children get the message that they’re a nuisance.
Negative comparisons with other children, especially brothers and sisters, are unlikely to be helpful. Each child in your family is different, with individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s better if you can recognise each child’s successes and achievements.
Moving house, divorce or arriving in Australia from another country are all changes that might affect your child’s self-esteem. You could maintain the connection with your child’s roots by keeping a diary with pictures of where he has been.