In psychology, self-esteem reflects a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. Having a good level of self-esteem is the foundation on which a child can grow his wellbeing and, potentially, it’s also the key of success as an adult.
Children see themselves through the eyes of their parents, who should actively help kids cultivate their self-esteem: this means to support children in developing a realistic understanding of their skills as well as their weak points, helping them enhance their strong points and work on the others.
For every child it’s very important to develop a healthy level of self-esteem. However, the focus is very often on helping little girls, since they may struggle more than boys given the strong cultural pressure that would induce them to be more submissive and compliant: girls would then be more insecure than boys and more needy of support.
Having said that, we should not underestimate the struggle that many little boys can go through and it’s crucial that parents dedicate them the same level of support and attention they would dedicate to their girls.
How can parents help their little boys develop a good and healthy level of self-esteem? Here are some tips for you.
- Kids learn to approach the world by watching their parents, so you should be a good example for those behaviours you want to encourage. You can start with a positive attitude towards life and an open, non-judgmental interaction with people. If parents are pessimistic, if they believe life is dangerous and feel anxious, children will feel the same. Be aware that these limiting beliefs are passed on by the words we say as well as by attitude and non-verbal communication.
- Having right expectations for the age of our children is another key aspect: it’s important to encourage kids to be responsible and to assign them small tasks to improve their self-esteem. However, parents need to be realistic and not to ask/expect too much. Many times I have heard fathers saying to their little boys: “When I am away, you are the man in this house and you need to take care of mum”. A sentence like this can only generate panic in children: they obviously don’t have the resources to deal with this task and at the same time they don’t want to let dad down. They can only feel inadequate and guilty for not taking good care of mum and this will damage their self-esteem.
- Avoid labels. If you refer to your kid as “shy” or “anxious”, whether you are speaking with him or with other people, try not to use these labels anymore as they stick to the person and are difficult to remove.
- Help your kid feel unique. Tell him how much you love him and show your love through hugs and caresses; if you can build an affectionate and playful relationship with your little boy, he will feel important and accepted and this will be the base for him to develop good relationships with others.
- Don’t show him your doubts about him dealing with a difficult situation, but show him your trust and praise him when he overcomes it; this will instill a sense of achievement and pride. So, for example, if he struggles to enter into a room full of children and eventually he goes in and plays, you can say something like: “I noticed you were nervous but you did it and this was very brave of you, well done!”
- Be aware of the specific fears of your child and never ignore or minimise his feelings. On contrary, accept his feeling and acknowledge his worries making him feel understood: “this is a difficult situation for you and I understand why you feel nervous”.
- And this takes us to the next tip: do not manage new or difficult situations on his behalf because he won’t learn to be independent. Instead, support his exploration of the world and let him learn from his mistakes.
There is a lot that you can do in your every day life to help your kid developing a good level of self-esteem. However, if you notice that your child is very sad or anxious, if he doesn’t want to go to school, if he suddenly changed his attitude towards you and his friends, then you may want to consider professional help to assess the problem and support your kid through it.