Developing your child’s self-esteem

Children engaging in any activity really comes down to their self-esteem.  In a nutshell, your child’s self-esteem is their belief of themselves and how confident they are about their ability to do things.  


Why self-esteem is important

Your child’s self-esteem will determine how much effort and energy they will put into doing something. When a child believes they can do something and have the resilience to keep trying they will engage rather than disengage when they make a mistake or come up against a challenge.  


Children with healthy self-esteem do not define themselves by their failures, their mistakes or what others think of them.  Unfortunately, some children, like many adults have low self esteem which will result in following behaviours:  

  • Avoiding activities or trying new things; 
  • Asking for help to do something rather than trying; 
  • Having BIG emotional reactions when they make a mistake or things go wrong; 
  • Being highly perfectionistic and self-critical; 
  • Having a high need for approval and reassurance; and
  • Taking on board what others think about them – good and bad.  


How can you help your child?  

It can be very frustrating and tiring for you as a parent especially because you are probably spending a lot of time and energy being their personal cheerleader and wishing they saw themselves as everyone around them does.  

Help your child find their inner Strength Hero.  Their strengths are what makes them unique and special.  An easy way to identify strengths is to think about what they do well or enjoy.  For example, if they can name every dinosaur that may mean they are curious and have a love of learning.  Develop their strengths by creating opportunities to use them more.   

Be a role model.  Make sure you share your mistakes with your child. One of the biggest predictors of a child’s ability to develop a growth mindset to tackle challenges is your ability to deal with mistakes. This really helps reinforce that mistake are how we learn.  

Teach your children that it is normal to feel emotion.  In our “happiness” obsessed society it can be normal for us and our kids to feel we are not normal if we are having a bad day.  Dr Russ Harris, the author of the Happiness Trap makes the point that if you are going to live a meaningful, and dare I say normal life, you will experience a whole range of emotions.  Like mistakes, share with your child your emotions.  Maybe you are nervous about doing a presentation for work.  By sharing how you feel and how you manage and cope you help normalise emotions.  

Equip your child with skills to deal with BIG emotions. When your child does feel emotion don’t try and make them stop feeling it.  The reality is you can’t.  Emotions will come and they will pass.  You can help them breathe to calm down and just sit with it.  You may give them a BIG hug to get a DOSE of oxytocin and resilience and then help them by asking them to admit or acknowledge the emotion:  “You seem really angry.  Is that how you are feeling?” 

Praise effort, not achievement.  It can be great when your child achieves but telling your child they are smart because they did well in a test does not help them when they find the next test or project challenging.  It undermines their belief that they are “smart.” So change your focus to something that values the effort.  For example:  “I love the way you kept trying until you worked it out.” 

Develop your child’s growth mindset to view mistakes as opportunities to learn.  A growth mindset is one that is optimistic.  For example, when a child makes a mistake instead of giving into the normal emotion and automatic negative thoughts that come along they can turn those thoughts into performance-enhancing thought. “I can’t do this” becomes “This is really hard and I need to keep trying” 

Don’t rescue your child.  Finally, let your child make mistakes instead of jumping in fix everything.  It can be hard when your child is displaying BIG emotions but by helping them learn how to deal with mistakes you are equipping them with skills that they will be able to cope with changes that life throws them.  

Doing these things will develop your child’s growth mindset and resilience to engage with activities, keep trying and persevere when they make a mistake or bounce back from adversity.  

About the author

Fiona Perrella

Fiona Perrella is the Creative Director of Strength Heroes and a Mistake Maker. She started her working life as a professional coach and organisational development consultant. When she had her own children she became passionate about helping other families develop the art of resilience. Strength Heroes uses art and play to develop confident and resilient children who bounce forward when they are faced with a challenge. They work with families, schools, childcare providers, out of school hours care programs, local councils and other organisations using the principals of positive psychology and a good old DOSE of common sense.

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5 rounds of

  • 5 inch worms
  • 10 push ups
  • 10 squats
  • 30s – 1min plank
  • 30s – 1min bridge