By Nadine Bubeck
As parents, we all want the same thing. We want our children to be happy. We want our children to be healthy. We want our children to love and be loved. And we want them to be good humans.
Problem is: how do we protect our children from the inevitable? How do we teach them to ignore and avoid bullies— to rise above the cruelty among us? How can we instill in our children to love themselves and radiate the self-esteem and self-worth we hope they will carry forever?
It’s surely a scary feeling sending our kids off to school knowing mommy isn’t around to protect them from falling or getting their feelings hurt.
A recent eye-opening study of 14,000 children in the United States found that as many as 40% of children don’t develop strong emotional bonds (what psychologists refer to as ‘secure attachment’) with their parents. Attachment refers to the impact that children’s early parental care has on their social and emotional development.
As many get in the groove of back to school, now is an opportune time to prioritize feeding our kids with positive reinforcement. However, I’m no expert. I’m just a mom doing the best I can. So, after much Googling, I came up with a list of 11 easy ways parents can help their kids establish and maintain self-confidence.
1. Recognize your child’s small and large successes. Children develop self-esteem gradually. Telling your child they are smart is nice but pointing out something specific gives them proof to internalize this belief.
2. Give praise when deserved, without overdoing it. Empty praise or a ribbon for no effort is not meaningful. A true sense of self-worth comes from trying, failing, trying again, and succeeding.
3. When your child fails, emphasize the persistence they exhibited, not the outcome. For example, if your child doesn’t make a sports team, tell them you’re proud of the effort put into trying. Learning to apply effort and be persistent are skills that can be applied to all areas of life.
4. When your child misbehaves, respond by saying that they “made a bad choice.” This gives them the power to make the right choice next time. Avoid making statements like, “You always misbehave,” because it can negatively define the core of your child’s identity.
5. Recognize when your child makes negative statements about themselves. If your child struggles with math and makes a generalized statement such as, “I can’t do math,” respond along the lines of, “You do well in school when you work hard. Math is a subject that you may need to spend more time on.”
6. Resist comparing one child to another in the family. Asking, “Why can’t you be more like your brother” will eventually lead to a lowered sense of self-worth. Emphasize what makes your child unique.
7. Show encouragement in many areas of your child’s life. If you only focus on grades, your child may believe they are only as good as their grades.
8. Respect your child’s cry. In other words, honor your child’s feelings and emotions. Instead of saying, “You’re 7 and too old to cry,” realize that shedding tears is a form of self-expression and it’s our body’s natural way to release upset feelings. In fact, crying lets the body rid itself of variants of the chemical cortisol, which is produced in times of stress
9. Maintain a positive home environment. If you and your spouse are constantly arguing, your child may not feel they don’t have control over their environment. This can cause them to feel helpless and recluse.
10. Volunteer with your child. When your child helps another person, it contributes to their own sense of self-worth. There are many ways to instill in your kids a passion to pay it forward.
11. Be affectionate with your child. Give hugs and frequently say, “I love you.” If your child knows your love is constant, your child will have the courage to try new things without fear of failure.