Self-esteem is all about liking who you are. At different ages, children need different kinds of support to build healthy self-esteem, due to changes in how they perceive themselves as they grow. In saying this, overall, much of a child’s self-esteem is built from knowing that they’re loved and valued by their family.
Newborns and very young babies don’t see themselves as being their own person but you can still lay the groundwork for healthy self-esteem by showing your baby they are loved through:
- Caring for your baby gently
- Responding when your baby cries
- Giving lots of cuddles and smiles.
Toddlers are beginning to develop an understanding of themselves, what they can do and what makes them who they are. It’s a good idea to let them make their own decisions by:
- Allowing them to explore their environment (whilst monitoring them and responding calmly yet caringly if they need you)
- Letting them make reasonable decisions, i.e. what they want to wear or eat, allowing for a sense of control that helps confidence to develop
- Gently teaching them the concept of sharing.
By around three years, most children realise that their bodies and minds belong to them. Most children can cope with some time away from their families by now, because they feel safe and loved. At this age, they often like to compare themselves with others. Positive yet balanced feedback is a good way to respond, letting your child feel pride in themselves while also sending the message that other people are important and can do things well too.
At school, children may compare themselves more and more with their peers. This can put a dent in their self-esteem, as they might feel less capable than others for the very first time. Learning new things, getting graded, competing with others, and adapting to new rules can be a real challenge for many children and may even cause some anxiety. Some ways you can help are by:
- Giving extra love and cuddles at the end and start of a school day
- Focussing on your child’s strengths and the effort they put in. Praise your child for what they’re good at, and let them know you’re proud of them for trying things that are difficult
- Giving them opportunities to try and learn new things
- Helping them understand that they will get better at certain things with time and that nobody is good at everything, especially at the start
- Teaching them some basics about interacting with others (i.e. being a good friend by smiling, sharing, playing fair, being honest etc.) and practicing at home
- Fostering a good, transparent relationship between school and home by talking with your child’s teacher and getting involved with their homework and/or school events
- Watching out for signs of learning problems and bullying or other social difficulties that can affect your child’s self-esteem. For advice on how to address these situations, read our blog on how to talk to children when times are tough.
Looking after yourself
It’s also a great idea to teach your child about good self-esteem and wellbeing through modelling it in yourself. You can do this by:
- Taking pride in your achievements and/or expressing what you’re good at
- Showing kindness to yourself through positive self-talk when you’re learning something new and/or make a mistake
- Looking after yourself through practising self-love and self-awareness, rest and relaxation and connection with your family.