It’s no secret that life isn’t always easy, and everyone experiences challenges at one time or another. This is true for adults and children alike – whether you have a toddler who’s had a toy snatched away or a teenager who is being bullied at school or online. At every age and at every stage of development there are difficulties for your children to overcome.
Bearing this in mind, have you prepared your child to navigate life’s difficulties, roadblocks, setbacks and challenges?
Supporting children to develop healthy self-esteem and resilience are two important ways to give children the skills they need to manage day-to-day difficulties in a positive way, to pick themselves up and to bounce back better than ever – no matter what hardships life throws their way.
Are Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence the Same?
Many people use the words self-esteem and self-confidence interchangeably – and so did I before I met Dr Michael Hall. However, he believes that distinguishing self-esteem from self-confidence “is one of, if not the most important step in parenting psychologically healthy children.”i
Self-confidence and self-esteem are both “self” evaluations and put simply, the difference is that:
- Self-confidence is about DOING: here a child’s evaluation of their confidence level should be based on their skills and abilities – the amount of practice and experience they have at doing something. If a child is new to something, then low self-confidence makes sense and high confidence if he or she has loads of experience and is good at something.
- Self-esteem, has nothing to do with “doing” and is all about BEING. Self-esteem refers to a child’s assessment of their innate value, inherent worth, dignity, honour and unconditional lovability. While self-confidence is conditional upon the skills, experience and success a child has with an activity, self-esteem is unconditional. According to Dr Michael Hall, every person has the right to good self-esteem. When people understand this distinction, they can have healthy self-esteem and wellbeing without having to BE, DO or HAVE knowledge or skills. I understand that if these ideas are new to you, then this is not an easy distinction to grasp in just a few paragraphs, so if you’d like to know more you can read Dr Michael Hall’s chapter on self-esteem in the book Inspired Children: How the Leading Minds of Today Raise their Kids available HERE.
Is Healthy Self-Esteem Beneficial?
When we look at the research on the benefits of healthy self-esteem and the harms of low self-esteem – we find that good self-esteem is related to:
- greater happiness
- persistence after failure
- relationship satisfaction
- job satisfaction and
- better health
On the other hand, low self-esteem is related to:
- dysfunctional, relationship-damaging behaviours
- anxiety and depression
- poorer health
What Harms Self-Esteem?
Sometimes we inadvertently harm our child’s self-esteem with our words and actions, so it’s good to understand what helps and what harms self-esteem. Think back to when you were a child, perhaps you remember your parents saying “good girl” or “good boy” when you did something they liked and “you’re a bad or naughty child” when you did something they weren’t happy with. So, being a good child or a bad child was conditional upon your behaviour. When parents speak to their children this way – their negative words can be internalised by the child – that is the child sees themselves as a “bad child” – harming their self-esteem.
Instead of labelling a child as bad or naughty when they do or say something we feel is wrong or inappropriate – a less harmful approach is to help a child understand they are always good and loveable but sometimes they make bad choices, use inappropriate words or engage in negative behaviours. See the difference? Label the child’s words or behaviours as unacceptable rather than labelling the child as bad.
Perhaps as a child, when your parents were upset with your actions you may have heard your parents say words like “are you stupid?” or “what’s the matter with you?”, “will you ever learn?” when you made a mistake or forgot to take out the garbage! Judgements and criticisms like these can harm a child’s sense of self-worth. Children may feel that they are only worthy of love, conditional upon what they know, how they behave and what they say.
When children feel that they have to “earn” the right to be loved or to be worthy, then they don’t feel innately valuable.
When children don’t feel innately valuable, they tend to look outside themselves to find their value and can look for external praise, find it difficult to receive feedback without taking it personally and even find themselves engaging in negative self-talk like “I’m an idiot, stupid, worthless” – which further harms self-esteem.
How to Nurture Healthy Self-Esteem
There are many ways to help your children develop healthy self-esteem. A great place to start is to teach your child the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Help your child understand that, like every human being, they have the right to have good self-esteem just for being themselves. They don’t have to be, or do, or have anything special to prove their worth – they are worthy and lovable just for being themselves! Other strategies include:
- Role-modelling good self-esteem by having unconditional care, respect and love for yourself and your child
- Instead of encouraging your child to look outside for their self-worth (looking for praise), encouraging your child to look inside for their self-worth (internal validation).
- Avoid making hurtful and judgmental statements like “don’t act like a baby”, “only an idiot would have done that”, “use your brain – you don’t think”!
- Question your child’s negative self-talk and help them to replace it with positive self-talk – in particular – explain that making mistakes is simply part of the learning process and part of growing up.
Helping Your Child to Develop Resilience
Helping your child to develop good self-esteem is one way to develop resilience as we know that children with good self-esteem tend to be better at persisting after failure.
Other ways to build resilience include:
- Reminding your child that life has ups and downs and exploring times where your child has overcome obstacles in the past – giving them the belief they can do it again.
- Encouraging your child to ask for help – resilient people ask for help when they need it!
- Helping your child to share, accept and manage their emotions.
- Supporting your child to take action to overcome the challenge or difficulty, rather than feeling helpless and waiting for someone else to solve the issue for them.
- Being a good role-model and problem-solving together.
A Closing Note…
Developing healthy self-esteem and resilience takes time and intentional effort. Just as children continue to develop their academic skills from pre-school to high school with the help of adults – parents and teachers need to support children to develop healthy self-esteem and the resilience they need to navigate the ups and downs of life from toddler right through the teen years.
Dr Rosina also has the Personal Power – Life Skills eBook available to purchase on her website for only $9.95 covering these vital life skills you can help your child develop:
LIFE SKILL 1: Supporting your child to develop a positive attitude to life
LIFE SKILL 2: Understanding and Supporting Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
LIFE SKILL 3: Evaluating Your Child’s Self-Esteem
LIFE SKILL 4: Strategies for Managing Verbal Abuse/Bullying
LIFE SKILL 5: Developing Healthy Self-Esteem
LIFE SKILL 6: Is your child a “praise junkie”? Understanding Internal and External Validation
Helping your child to understand and claim their personal power in relation to:
LIFE SKILL 7: Understanding and managing Anger
LIFE SKILL 8: Understanding and managing Sadness
LIFE SKILL 9: Understanding and managing Jealousy
LIFE SKILL 10: Understanding and nurturing Happiness
LIFE SKILL 11: How to Avoid the Dangers of Negative Overgeneralisations
LIFE SKILL 12: Developing Strategies to Manage Life’s Challenges and Build Resilience
i Dr Rosina McAlpine (Ed)(2011) Inspired Children: How the leading mind of today raise their children Darlington Press.