“Mummy I can’t…I don’t know how to do it.”

Why is it that some children approach and try new things with confidence while others feel that they are incapable? Rebecca Goh-Quek, Education Specialist at Kinderland Educare Services Pte Ltd offer ways for parents to help build their child’s self-esteem.

girl crying with her hands on her face

Self-esteem is similar to self-worth, how we value ourselves. According to Hermine (1989), self-esteem refers to our judgments about our own worth. It develops from seeing ourselves as competent individuals to accomplish given tasks and the ability to control or influence the environment.

Children with healthy self-esteem tend to enjoy interacting with others. They will work to find solutions for problems or challenges they encounter. On the other hand, children will low self-esteem tend to be reserved, withdrawn, and quiet or give up easily. They feel that they are unable to perform and hope that others will take over the task from them.

Your involvement is important

Adults’ involvement is key to helping children develop healthy self-esteem. Children need to feel that they are capable and are being valued through the adults’ positive responses. There is a need to create physical environments with developmentally appropriate materials which provides challenges and success within children’s reach for them to explore, in a certain sense allowing the children some choice and control.

For example during breakfast, allow the child to make a choice between cereal or bread. Do respect the choice that the child has made. Set reasonable demands, be realistic and do not impose unreasonable restrictions. Provide opportunities for children to strive towards independence and to develop where possible a sense of personal control.

Self-esteem changes from day to day or year to year. By observing the child’s willingness to explore the environment, control of events and listening to their conversations among peers and adults, may be a way of assessing their self-esteem. However, it should not be based on only one or two statements, we need to be cautious in making interpretations.

Some ways to help children to build self-esteem are:

1. Let them feel valued

How to raise happy children

Praise and reward children for their effort and completion of a task instead of outcome. For example, if your child did not win an award in an art competition, say something like, “Well you did not win, but I am proud of the effort you put in to complete the artwork”. Praise them honestly, without overdoing it.

Stop and listen to children when they are trying to tell you something. Sometimes, you may not be able to completely understand what they are saying, but they need you to hear their thoughts and feelings. It shows that you value them.

2. Let them feel they are competent

Provide success experiences for children by gradually increasing the difficulty level of tasks. Breakdown the task into smaller steps and allow each child time to complete it; the child needs to feel that he/she is able to complete a task even with some struggles.

3. Let them feel they have autonomy

Provide opportunities for children to make choices, even simple ones. Limit the choices to two rather than a variety. For example, as the child “Do you want to wear the red or blue t-shirt for the outing” and not “What do you want to wear for the outing?”

4. Help children learn social skills

Help them to learn interpersonal skills to interact with others. When differences arise, they can work towards finding a solution and voice their views without belittling themselves and others. Adults need to be aware of our own expectation for children and do not compare them with others. Instilling a sense of responsibility and pride in our children is greatest gift we can give them.

This article was first published in The New Age Parents Apr / May 2015 e-magazine