Self-es­teem and your child

Praise with pur­pose

Your Baby & Toddler - - Contents -

IT’S HARD TO hide your beams of pride when your child does some­thing for the first time. Whether that’s ob­tain­ing a de­gree or blow­ing a spit bub­ble, we tend to think the best moms are the ones lead­ing the loud­est, largest cheer­lead­ing squads. It’s nor­mal to want to cel­e­brate, and it’s very much in the spirit of our times to give chil­dren loads of pos­i­tive feed­back. We think this builds self-es­teem, see.

But does it? Self-es­teem isn’t a syn­onym for con­fi­dence. It is, in­stead, a healthy as­sess­ment of your strengths and weak­nesses and it means you nei­ther un­der- nor over-value your­self. At best, it means you ac­tu­ally like your­self.

Par­ent­ing ex­perts are push­ing back against this cul­ture of over-prais­ing. In­stead of build­ing chil­dren who are calmly con­fi­dent in their abil­i­ties, with a re­al­is­tic sense of their lim­i­ta­tions, these ex­perts say the ten­dency among cod­dling he­li­copter par­ents to shel­ter their snowflakes from ev­ery crit­i­cism and in­su­late them from ev­ery hard­ship can build frag­ile egos that crack un­der pres­sure. After all, self-es­teem that re­quires con­stant ex­ter­nal val­i­da­tion is not real self-worth at all.

Self-es­teem-build­ing is about much more than mean­ing­less praise. It is about build­ing re­silience to life’s (in­evitable) fail­ures, about know­ing how to pur­sue per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, and about eval­u­at­ing your­self while de­vel­op­ing a gen­uine ap­pre­ci­a­tion for your unique set of char­ac­ter­is­tics and abil­i­ties. Here are some ways you can con­trib­ute to the blos­som­ing of a child with healthy self-es­teem in your home:


You love your child, and you prob­a­bly tell them so reg­u­larly. But it is also im­por­tant to show how much you ac­cept your off­spring for the per­son they are. Start while your baby is tiny, by mak­ing eye con­tact, laugh­ing to­gether and shar­ing hugs and cud­dles: all this shows your very young child you ac­cept her just how she is.

Spend one-on-one time with each of your chil­dren. Rather than telling them, this will show them that you like be­ing around them. Show your chil­dren that you love them for who they are, not for what they can do. For older kids, try thank­ing them when they have done a task well or tried to please you. And here’s a left-field idea: when you’ve been need­lessly crabby or lost your tem­per, apol­o­gise. It shows your child he or she is a val­ued mem­ber of the fam­ily, who is also en­ti­tled to re­spect, it demon­strates that even a per­son you love very much can err, and it demon­strates to your child ways of right­ing a wrong. And that feels good!


Chil­dren learn from ob­serv­ing the adults around them – that means you, mom and dad. “So as a par­ent you should show them how you your­self can be con­fi­dent and stand up for your­self. Then your child will feel more con­fi­dent do­ing the same,” says ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist and Your Baby ex­pert ad­viser Cara Blackie. The flip side is, of course, that low self-es­teem can also be learnt from role mod­els, so if you strug­gle with lik­ing your­self or low lev­els of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, the best thing you can do for your child is to give your­self the gift of work­ing on im­prov­ing in this area.


You want to al­low your chil­dren the plea­sure of be­ing trusted with mak­ing a choice – yet you do need them to con­form to some of your rules, such as wear­ing warm enough cloth­ing. This bal­anc­ing act is su­per hard to get right and you’ll likely fall off the beam many times. That’s okay!

So pick your bat­tles: tell your twoyear-old she can choose any of her longsleeved tops or dresses. Then re­spect her choice even if she doesn’t match.

Al­low­ing a child to grap­ple alone for a while is im­por­tant, be­cause on their third – or fif­teenth – at­tempt, they may just tie the bow, and that sense of achieve­ment will make them feel great about them­selves. Don’t rush in. Al­low your child the chance to de­velop com­pe­tence at a task.

This takes time and ef­fort. “You can’t praise your child into com­pe­tence,” says US psy­chol­o­gist and lec­turer Dr Jim Tay­lor on his blog, The Power of Prime. Rather, let your child take cer­tain risks (car­ry­ing the juice jug across the room) as well as solve his prob­lem when the



When you’re distributing praise, try to be re­al­is­tic. Dr Tay­lor, who is al­ler­gic to the lazy par­ent­ing phrase “Good job!”, says that tod­dlers only need you to echo what they’ve just done. Say­ing, “You climbed up the lad­der by your­self!” shows your child that you’ve seen him. He will beam with pride.

Don’t be afraid to qual­ify your praise. You might say, “I think you’re the best three-year-old recorder player I know!” (Well, it’s true!) Ad­mit that oth­ers can be bet­ter at cer­tain skills: “Alex runs faster than you, but you catch the ball more of­ten. You’re both good for the team.” Your child can feel pride, es­pe­cially be­cause he knows you are not ly­ing, and not just blow­ing smoke to make him feel good. He is even learn­ing to be gen­er­ous, and ac­knowl­edg­ing oth­ers’ achieve­ments.

A clever trick is to al­low your chil­dren to “over­hear” praise, while you’re talk­ing to a friend, for ex­am­ple. This will make the praise even more valu­able. Try: “Do you know what hap­pened? Sihle


Be wary of com­par­isons be­tween your chil­dren – it can paint them into a box if they are al­ways char­ac­terised as the “wild” one or the “sen­si­tive” one. Let them choose for them­selves, un­der­stand­ing that all of us can dis­play dif­fer­ent traits in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

Com­par­isons al­ways leave one per­son worse off, so it’s best to fo­cus on each child’s in­di­vid­ual traits and not in re­la­tion to each other. For the same rea­son, avoid name-call­ing or be­lit­tling or sar­cas­tic lan­guage, and don’t ac­cuse your child (“You al­ways do X or Y”). And it’s worth stat­ing again: If you do slip up – and we all do – be the big­ger per­son and apol­o­gise. YB

con­se­quence of the risk is that there’s juice all over the floor (mop­ping it up with a pa­per towel by him­self).

At the same time, you don’t want them to be­come dis­heart­ened, so you can “help” a lit­tle if the task is too chal­leng­ing. Know­ing when to in­ter­vene is dif­fi­cult, so don’t beat your­self up for the times you get it wrong.

As they age, en­cour­age your chil­dren to pur­sue their in­ter­ests and – cru­cially – stick with them even when it is hard to do so. The hit of ac­com­plish­ment at the end will be so worth it.

Noth­ing makes a child feel like a val­ued and in­dis­pens­able part of the house­hold like giv­ing her her “own” job, even if it is just open­ing the cur­tains in the lounge, at this stage, for a two-year-old, or help­ing clear the din­ner ta­ble at three, or at­tempt­ing to make her own bed at four. dropped his snack at playschool, and ap­par­ently Themba picked it up and put it back on his plate for him. Wasn’t that sweet of him?”

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