Cultivating confidence: How to help your kiddo improve their self esteem and conquer the world

By ParentTV on 12 Nov 2020
Categories: General Parenting

Parents often think that our kids are just the bees’ knees. 

In fact, some of us have a totally inflated sense of how amazing our children are, because they are amazing to us. We made them, so it follows. When we try and tell other people that our baby has learnt to ROLL OVER or our seven-year-old put their own plate IN THE DISHWASHER, they don’t always deliver the rounds of applause we’re expecting. This is obviously unjust. But, what do we do if we think our kiddos are magnificent and they’re the ones who don’t agree?

Some kids seem naturally at ease in their bodies and minds. They’re happy, confident and relaxed by default and they cruise through life without much angst. But for others, things are a bit trickier. Whether it’s due to neurodivergence, personality, sensitivity or something else, there are some kids who just find it harder to show up in the world as themselves. They might be perfectionists or survivors of trauma, abused, bullied or supported wholeheartedly, but one thing’s for sure: kids who lack confidence have a really hard time. 

So, how do we help our kids improve their self-esteem? How do we teach them that they’re worthy and wonderful, regardless of how fast or pretty or smart or strong they are? 

How can parents cultivate confidence in their children when their children have low reserves to start with? As always, the ParentTV experts have the answers.

Role model confidence

Ugh, really? Do we have to? Well, yes, says Maggie Dent, ParentTV expert. ‘Parents need to show that they are setting goals and achieving them, or working hard towards achieving them. Kids are always watching. Part of this is role-modelling is demonstrating that if you don’t get something right, you try again. Resilience and persistence are par for the course.’ When kids mimic this behaviour and eventually do get whatever they’re attempting right, it’s the ultimate confidence-booster, Maggie explains. ‘Children can’t develop authentic confidence if they don’t have some success or experiences of self-mastery.’ See below…

Help them find something they’re good at

‘Somewhere in their lives, kids need to feel good at something,’ says Maggie. ‘When they feel competent, it challenges that internal dialogue that tells them they’re useless or inadequate, and that’s really important.’ Don’t just concentrate on skills, either, Maggie cautions. If they’re not academic or athletically inclined, find something they love that is not measurable, but valuable to them. ‘Confidence can come from knowledge and passion rather than ability, and any area of competence feeds feelings of success,’ says Maggie. Got a child who’s a dinosaur buff, Minecraft pro or fairies specialist? Perfect. Any subject that they feel is worthwhile, IS worthwhile.

Allow them to fail and challenge perfectionism

Maggie referred to this earlier, and it’s something that both Teacher Tom and Dr Jodie Lowinger mention, too. If kids don’t fail, they don’t learn to try again and succeed, but some kids set unattainable goals from the outset. This is a hallmark of perfectionism, explains ParentTV expert and psychologist, Dr Jodie Lowinger. ‘When our kids and teens are striving for perfection, they are constantly setting themselves unrealistic benchmarks that they’re never going to be able to achieve and feel good about. This has huge impacts on their self-esteem and self-worth.’ They may also become so anxious about how it will feel to fail that they avoid trying altogether.

Worry tricks us into believing that making a mistake will be a catastrophe, so we constantly check and recheck ourselves to make sure this doesn’t happen. But, if you encourage your children to lean into this space of imperfection and purposeful mistake-making, they can test the waters and learn that they coped much better than they expected or the outcome wasn’t as bad as they expected.

Dr Jodie Lowinger

Maggie Dent agrees, saying ‘there’s one little magic word that can really help sensitive kids who struggle with confidence: yet. When they say they can’t do something, remind them that they just can’t do it yet, and you can help them practice until they can do it.’

Help them learn to manage their social anxiety and/or shyness

Often, a child who has low self-esteem experiences anxiety about themselves and their social skills. So, to address their self-esteem, you have to unpack the causes of the anxiety, says ParentTV expert Claire Orange. Shyness can be an expression of this anxiety, but whether or not your child presents as shy, reluctance to engage socially can hold them back developmentally and compound their insecurities. Throughout childhood, there are skills that we want our children to lay down, and one of these is navigating social relationships,’ says Claire Orange, ParentTV expert.

As children play, they learn empathy, boundaries and what they do and don’t like in other people. If your child is anxious or shy, they start to miss out on these encounters and this understanding.

Claire Orange

To help your shy or anxious child become more confident socially, Claire suggests a few things:

  1. Don’t force them to engage. Limit the social occasions where they struggle and give them opportunities to shine where they feel supported.
  2. Help them practice skills like entering conversations or games, and rehearse things before they happen to prepare them to respond in a way they feel good about.
  3. Give them warm-up time. They might need to observe from the sidelines before they feel ready to participate.
  4. Think about where your child is successful. Is there a relationship they do well in that you can nurture?
  5. Lower expectations and demands. If you’re going to visit someone and they’re nervous about making conversation, don’t ask them to make conversation. Instead, ask them to just say hello, together with you. Accomplishing this allows them to feel competent.

Help them learn coping strategies

‘How your child feels about themselves and their worthiness is so important. They need to feel loved and valued and that the world needs their presence here, at this time,’ says Dr Charlotte Reznick, child psychologist and ParentTV expert. ‘It’s not about making them feel entitled, just deserving of life.’ Dr Reznick believes that helping kids learn mindfulness and meditation techniques can have a big impact on their sense of self-worth. That way, they have internal resources to marshall in times of need.

When kids are feeling low, it’s really important for us to help them find the answers within, and not just tell them we love them.

Dr Charlotte Reznick

‘They need to believe in themselves. Meditation can help children connect with everything they have within themselves. When they’re calm and centred, they make better decisions and feel better about who they are,’ Dr Reznick says. 

For parents, it can be heartbreaking to see your child being endlessly self-critical or down on themselves. We hope this article gives you some ideas about how you can help them (that’s kind of our jam!). Check out the videos below (and above ^^) for more insights from the ParentTV expert team. It takes a village.