Building children’s self esteem: 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them

Message StonesSelf esteem:is knowing that you can handle what life sends your way. It is the ability to put your best foot forward and cope with life. Self esteem determines how you see yourself and creates the ability to take on challenges. Self esteem gives you confidence and keeps anxiety at bay.

Here are 5 myths about self esteem that are commonly believed and alternative approaches which will genuinely strengthen your child’s self esteem.

Myth One: high self esteem will guarantee you success.  Success comes from what you do not from how you feel.  Feeling good about yourself helps of course but only if it leads to consistent efforts to reach your goals.

It is possible to have high self esteem that is unrealistic.  Falsely high self esteem leads to people expecting good things to happen to them as their right.  They may do little towards it and get very upset or angry if they are not given what they feel entitled to.

Positive self esteem leads to success when people are motivated, work hard and are realistic in their expectations. A combination of positive self acceptance and optimism in your ability to achieve your goals is the key to success.  Although you may not yet be where you want to be, you need to believe in your ability to make decisions in your best interests.

Myth Two: High achievers always have high self esteem.  file3641250388816For most people this is true, because it is their motivation and persistence which keeps them focused, but perfectionists are an exception.  If you set your sights too high, you may not reach your goal, and then your self esteem will suffer.  Perfectionists are never satisfied with their achievements.  They may have been encouraged to aim high throughout their lives and may have been set unreasonable expectations.  If, whatever you do is short of perfection, then you are never satisfied.

Healthy self esteem requires a realistic take on what you are capable of and what a “good enough” outcome could be.

Myth Three: Praise raises self esteem.  Self esteem is a personal belief and is not created outside ourselves.  General praise may not alter how we already feel.  Being told you are wonderful does not always make you feel that way.  However specific praise and feedback can be a useful source of information which we can use.

For example Jane was giving asked to read her work out to the class.   She was pleased with what she had done but she was not sure how well she could hold her peers attention. She was relieved to hear their comments later which told her that she had made the material interesting and relevant.

Self reflection and developing a strong sense of who you are and what you want is the best self esteem builder.  It can helpful to encourage your child to keep a journal to record daily achievements and why they are proud of what they have done.  Your child could also set improvement goals to help them decide what is important to them.

Myth Four: Self esteem is fixed in childhood and can’t be altered.  Our childhood definitely sets the scene but we continue to grow and learn throughout life.  Although self esteem can become fossilised if someone is not open to self reflection, most people do continue to change their view of themselves from life experiences.

If your child has low self esteem they may be focusing on the negatives rather than the positives.  Make a list together of 10 things they can be proud of.

file0001179129151Myth Five: Self esteem is constant whatever we are doing.  Self esteem is actually more like an equation which we calculate for each situation.

Self esteem equals the skills required for the current situation and how much importance that success carries with you and others whose opinions you value

For example: Andrea has ballet classes and progress is slow but she is prepared to keep going as she believes it will take time to learn.  This is a positive position involving self acceptance and optimism. Andrea has a growth mindset which encourages her to look at progress and effort not just results.

In contrast: David hates maths at school and assumes that his classmates may think it is his weakest subject and think less of him.  David’s position is negative and involves self blame and pessimism. David’s fixed mindset is a barrier to progress.

You can help your child create the growth mindset needed for any situations where they feel uncertain. Encourage your child to accept their current position but look at what they can do positively to deal with it.  When David realized he was giving up too easily in Maths and that this affected his progress, he decided it was time to overcome his gremlin about maths.


© Jeni Hooper



About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
This entry was posted in Helping Children Flourish and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Building children’s self esteem: 5 common mistakes and how to avoid them

  1. Jeni, your blog gives a really useful insight into how dynamic ‘self esteem’ really is and so how open it can be to positive change.

  2. hooperj says:

    Thanks Chris, people used to talk about self esteem as if it was fixed when we now know it is flexible and open to change and development. It’s important that children are given the message that they are competent and capable of learning new skills. Self belief determines what you say to yourself about trying something new.

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