Dr Kate Owen
Your Child's Self-Esteem
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Do you worry about your child’s self-esteem?
Do you wish that they were more confident?
All parents want their children to feel good about themselves and grow up with a strong and positive sense of self-worth.
So what can you do as a parent to help this?
Well, first let’s start with understanding “What is Self-Esteem?”
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is the way that people think about themselves and how worthwhile they feel.
People with high levels of self-esteem have a sense of self-respect and sense of self-worth. They know they have faults, but overall think of themselves as a “good enough” person. Kids who feel good about themselves have the confidence to try new things, feel proud of what they can do, develop positive beliefs about themselves, and keep trying even if they make a mistake.
People with low self-esteem are often very critical of themselves, dismiss their good qualities, judge themselves negatively compared to others, and often use negative self-talk and words to describe themselves. Kids with low self-esteem are often scared to try new things in case they fail, give up easily, feel inferior or not good enough, and easily believe negative comments from other children.
What Can You Do As A Parent?
Building positive self-esteem is a lifelong journey that starts from early childhood. Never underestimate how important you are in helping to shape and create your child’s self-identity and self-esteem.
Even as they grow older you still have a powerful role to play.
Aligned with my passion for working with the mind-body connection, as well as seeing relationships as vital to well-being, below are three powerful tips in helping parents know how to be a positive influence on their child’s self-esteem journey.
Tip #1: More Than Words When your child is telling you something that they are proud of, of course it is good to use positive words. I bet you often say “Oh wow! That is fantastic. Great job!”
If you want to strengthen and deepen that moment for your child, then try the following:
Stop what you are doing.
Connect with your child fully by moving closer to them, coming down to their level, and looking them in the eye.
Concentrate on what they are saying.
Have an open body posture.
Smile and soften your eyes.
Say your positive statements but add an explanation that helps your child learn more about themselves, such as “Wow! You stopped and helped that little girl who fell over. You are a kind person.”
And then ask them these questions:
“What part of your story makes you feel the best?”
“Tell me why”
“How does it make you feel?”
“Tell me more”
Why do these questions matter?
When we recall a memory or event our body is able to access the feeling that was created at the time of that event occurring. How amazing is that! We all have the ability to change how we feel just by actively choosing to focus on past positive experiences.
Try it right now.
Think about an amazing moment in your life, a happy memory, something that makes you smile when you think about it.
Really focus on the details. The image. The sounds. The smells.
Remember the best part of that experience.
Feel the change in your body?
This is what you want your child to feel!
You can help your child “feel” good about themselves through the stories they tell you. And when this is then paired with positive words, the impact is so much greater for your child. You are helping your child to embed that positive story into their mind.
Remember, self-esteem is not just how we think about ourselves, it is also how we feel about ourselves.
Now, I know parents are busy people. I get it. So don’t feel pressured to have to use this idea each and every time your child tells you something positive. It is just not practical.
Just keep the intention of trying to “catch one moment” during the week when you can do this really well. And then try again the following week.
Self-esteem is a build-up of repeated stories and experiences and feelings and words over time!
Tip #2: The Power of Visualisation
The power of visualisation is remarkable. Research shows us that our brain cannot distinguish between reality and our thoughts. Your mind and body will react the same way to imaginary experiences as to real experiences.
For example, if you imagine yourself being social at a party with friends, you will feel a similar boost of confidence as if you were actually at a party socialising with friends!
The other amazing thing about visualisation is that it reprograms your brain to strengthen subconscious choices in your daily life that “fit” with the visualisations you have been focusing on.
So how can you use this with your child?
You can search the internet for guided visualisation scripts. Alternatively, you can create your own with your child. The more input that they have into the story, the stronger the connection to the visualisation.
Tips for creating your own visualisation story…
First step is to talk with your child about the power of their imagination and ask if they would like to do an imagination exercise that will help them feel better about themselves. Get specific about what they would like different.
Second, find a quiet, calm, and relaxed moment with your child.
Next, both of you find a comfortable position to sit and take a few deep breaths.
Encourage your child to relax all the major parts of their body – feet, legs, stomach, back, shoulders, neck, arms, hands, face.
Prompt your child with “Let's Imagine…” This is important as it primes the brain for an image. And then use your knowledge about your child and your love for your child to help create a story that will fit with their uniqueness.
You can incorporate these elements into the visualisation:
Small but positive steps towards a larger goal.
Specific details about positive behaviours, thoughts, and feelings.
Link positive consequences and outcomes that will occur due to these behaviours, thoughts and feelings.
A small struggle that your child is able to overcome which leads to success.
Messages that your child likes themselves more, values themselves, is proud of themselves.
Positive affirmations that lead to positive beliefs such as “I am an OK kid.”
This is a short script that I have used with several children who have struggled with confidence:
“Let’s imagine that tonight you go home, watch tv, eat dinner, have a shower and go to bed. Tomorrow when you wake up….you are a super hero!
But nobody knows you are a super hero. Only you.
See yourself waking up tomorrow morning and being a super hero.
See yourself standing tall with your shoulders back. Your chest is out. You have your hands on your hips. You are smiling.
You tell yourself “I’ve got this!”
You get ready for school feeling confident about yourself and about the day ahead.
You have an invisible super hero mask. You put it on. See the colour of the mask? It is so cool.
You get to school like you normally do.
You walk towards your classroom.
A friend in your class waves at you. Do you see them? They are smiling.
For a split second you want to turn away and pretend you don’t see them.
But then you remember that you are a super hero! Super heroes can handle anything. You tell yourself “I am OK. I’ve got this.”
You wave back to your friend. Wow! You are confident today. And you notice that waving to your friend made them smile. That feels good.
And this is how you now wake up every day.
Every day you wake up, stand tall, chest out, smile, hands on hips, and say “I’ve got this. I am OK”.
And every day you put on your invisible super hero mask and it makes you feel confident”.
And then to embed the visualisation into your child’s memory, you talk about the story with your child. You can use the ideas from Tip #1.
The more that your child can describe what part of the story they liked the best, describe why, and identify how they felt, the brain will start to integrate that story into their sense of self.
What are you waiting for…get creative!
Tip #3: Be a Great Role Model
Your children look to you to learn about themselves, to learn about others, and to learn about the world. And so it's important as a parent to reflect on your own feelings of self-worth and your own self esteem.
How would you describe your own level of self-esteem?
How does your sense of self “feel” to you?
Some prompts to help you reflect on this:
How would you describe your personality?
How do you describe your physical appearance?
How do you relate to other people?
How would others describe you?
What are your strengths?
How do you handle your everyday life?
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. As humans we will always encounter moments of stress, disappointment, or mess up in some way. And it is absolutely normal to have moments of self-doubt. Nobody can have robust self-esteem every moment of the day!
But my message is clear. If you want to help to boost the confidence and self-esteem of your child, the first place to start is with you.
If you liked this blog you might like:
Dr Kate Owen's online course "Creating Calm Kids: Recognising and Responding to Anxiety in 5 to 12 Year Olds"
Please note that this is general advice. Please consult with a health care professional if you are concerned about your child.