Self Esteem: First With Kids - Vermont Children's Hospital, Fletcher Allen

Feel Good About the Need to Promote Self-Esteem in Your Child

Parents have been feeling good recently asking me about what they can do to help their child develop some self-esteem and pride in who they are without being overly confident. Well, let me proudly provide some information on this topic.

Studies suggest that children who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time with conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They are happier and generally optimistic. Children who think poorly of themselves have a hard time finding solutions to problems. They are the ones who say “I can’t” versus “I can.”

If you want to help promote self-esteem in your child, here are some suggestions:

First, watch what you say. Praise your child not just for a job well done but for their effort. For example, if your child doesn’t make a team, don’t say “Next time you’ll just need to work harder if you want to make it.” Instead say, “Even though you didn’t make the team, I’m proud of you for trying and the effort you put into it.” Reward the effort and not the outcome.

Be a positive role model. If you are harsh on yourself, your child will be harsh on themselves. Parents who fight or argue a lot or feel depressed can have these feelings rub off on their children, so do your best to not demonstrate this type of behavior in front of your children – or seek help for it before it does affect your child.

Praise your child spontaneously and frequently, but do so honestly without overdoing it. Give positive but accurate feedback. Telling them that you know they could be the best at math is only going to set them up for failure. Telling them you know they are working hard at math in school, and you are proud they are asking you or their teachers for help so they can continue to do well, is a better response.

Find activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition as your children start into school. Also, find and celebrate what your child enjoys and may be good at and allow them to cultivate that interest rather than focus on the interests you think would be good for them, especially when your child doesn’t want to share that same focus.

If you suspect your child does not want to try new things, frequently speaks negatively about themselves, or has a low threshold for frustration, talk to your child’s health care provider. He or she can provide some additional suggestions or, in rare cases, suggest counseling or further professional help. 

Hopefully tips like these will boost your confidence and self-esteem when it comes to teaching your children how to boost theirs. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.