5 Steps to boost your child’s self-esteem

In a competitive world, it’s important for our kids to have the confidence to strive towards achieving their goals. Psychologist Ilze van der Merwe advises how to help your kids find this confidence.


Self-esteem describes a person’s overall appraisal of his or her own worth. All people have varying degrees of self-regard, self-worth, self-respect, self-love and self-integrity, but sometimes we feel as though we have no value at all. The secret to a good self-esteem is to focus on the positive aspects of life and not on the negative ones.

There are five important steps parents can apply to increase a child’s self-esteem:

Step one: Help them realise the ripple effect of their actions

Show your child that everything she has an effect on others. Make her aware of the ripple effect of her actions. For instance, when she shares a packet of sweets, the recipient of the sweets will feel cared for and good. The child who experienced this caring behaviour will go back to her family and be more caring and share more easily. This makes the whole family feel more cared for. Show your child how powerful her good deeds and behaviour can be.

Step two: Remind them of their abilities and competencies: “I can!”

Focus on the abilities and competencies of your children. I know it takes effort, focus and concentration, but the results are far-reaching. It doesn’t matter how young your child is; she has a multitude of skills and talents.
Encourage her to do as many things within her ability as possible. Maybe your three-year-old child can already put her clothes in the laundry basket. Encourage her to do this, and then acknowledge what she did by saying: “See how easy that was for you? You can be so proud of yourself!” This comment has great potential to help your child feel good about herself, and to do it again. As advised by Wynne Cohen in her book, Can-Can-Kidz, teach your children to unhook the “t” from can’t so that instead of saying “I can’t”, she says “I can”. Whatever you say to your mind, your mind will believe.

Step three: Show them how their strength grows through daily challenges

Everyone experiences a fair share of difficulties and challenges on a daily basis. Help your children realise that they have the ability to deal with these difficulties and challenges. Point out an instance where she has already managed to deal with a difficult situation.
Every child must deal with rejection. Help your child to see how his strength and resilience grows when she experiences rejection, and handles it properly. It’s also powerful for children to witness how their parents handle the challenges and difficulties of life. The more parents behave as good role models for their children, and show them effective ways to deal with life’s difficulties, the more effectively children will learn to do the same.
Parents can teach their children how to deal with life’s difficulties by rephrasing the child’s perception of the difficulty.
For example: A six-year-old boy just experienced his first week in grade 0. He tells his mom that his new friend called him a moron. His mother can use the opportunity to teach her son how to stand up for himself by saying in a strong voice: “No-one calls me a moron!” The same boy also said to his mother that it takes him three days to make a friend, implying that this is a long time. She can rephrase it by commenting: “You’re so good at making friends. It only takes you three days. How many friends did you make in three days?”
The child is most likely to look at it differently, and see his strength and name a couple of friends he’s made.

Step four: Help them to set realistic goals in realistic time frames

One of the most devastating things that people can do to their self-esteem is to compare themselves to others, and to find themselves lacking. If your child sets unrealistic goals, she might experience failure, which can be poisonous to a good self-esteem. Teach your child to set realistic goals.
For instance, my son wanted to play first-team soccer because one of his best friends did. When he wasn’t chosen, he fell into a bottomless pit of self-doubt. I made sure I spent time with him and helped him become realistic about his goals and expectations. I made him aware that his friend played club soccer as well as school soccer and that he practiced every day, including on weekends. I asked my son if he wanted to play soccer every day, including weekends, to which he quickly replied: “No. I want to spend time with my friends over weekends.” He quickly saw that he’d been unrealistic. He decided that he wanted to play third team soccer the next year, and would go to almost every soccer practice during the soccer season. It was realistic for him to aim to third team, taking his age, interest and commitment into consideration.

Step five: Use affirmations

Teach your children the power of affirmations to remind themselves over and over of their potential. Author W. Clement Stone said that “whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” This means we can tell our minds what to believe, and by using affirmations, people remind their minds what to believe.
I regularly remind children of the wise words of Dr John Demartini: “You are a genius.”
Other affirmations parents can teach children younger than six: “I make good friends”, “I know how to share”, “I know I’m special”, “I’m brave/talented/clever”. These are reminders that they are wise and can do whatever they desire.
Another powerful affirmation to use is: “No matter what I have done or not done, I am worthy of love”, or for young children: “I am loved; no matter what I do”. If you teach your children to believe this about themselves, they’ll begin to understand that nothing that they do or don’t do makes them not good enough or smart enough to be worthy of love. Help your child develop her own words for affirmations – words she can use to affirm to herself how great she is, just the way she is. This is a powerful method to cement great self-esteem.


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