12 ways to build your 3-5 year old’s self-esteem

If we define a child’s self-esteem as their overall sense of self-worth, confidence and personal value, then instilling a healthy and positive self-esteem in our children is paramount. Below are 12 tips on how parents can positively build their children’s self esteem.

If you are a parent: -

1. Make sure your child feels special and make time to play with your child. Undivided attention, even for short periods, makes children feel special. Most of us parents are extremely busy and often engaged in all manner of work and domestic responsibilities. Therefore making time to really play with our children or do something fun together (requiring our full attention) tells them that they are important.

2. Mirror ‘positivity’ to your child. Feeding back positive reflections to your children helps them to think well of themselves. Catching our children being good and remembering to praise them can really enhance their self-image (sometimes as parents we correct our children more than we praise them). Of course it is impossible to constantly be smiling and stay positive all of the time, but as long as we are conscious and sensitive to how our feedback impacts our children, we can positively shape their self–image.

3. Offer appropriate praise that is positive and specific. We all know praise is great for children’s self esteem. However, it also needs to be genuine, and earned. Furthermore, specific praise is much more effective than general comments. For example, instead of simply saying  “Well done!”, “Good job” or “Good girl”, adding on a specific statement tells your child exactly what you are pleased about and that you are really noticing their efforts. For example, “Well done! You remembered to take your plate into the kitchen, that is so helpful. Thank you”.

4. Listen well and offer empathy. Make time to listen and really talk to your child. Sometimes this is not when we as parents want to talk, but when our child wants to. Seize the opportunity and show your child you are listening. Offer empathy if your child expresses frustration about something they can’t do or understand. You could even follow it up by pointing out your child’s strengths or other things that are going well (to help your child focus on the positives).

5. Encourage strengths in one area, as this can have a positive impact on other areas. Enjoying one activity or having a talent in one area can often boost a child’s self-image, and impact positively on other areas. Recognising our child’s special talents, and helping them build on these, can rub off onto other areas, having a knock-on effect.

6. Give your child responsibilities. Children benefit from doing “jobs”. Giving children household duties can help them to feel valuable, trusted and start to learn about responsibility. As young as three, a child can be taught to clean and scrub things (which they often love!), separate laundry into darks and lights and/or tidy toys into a basket.

7. Set your child to succeed. Encourage your child to recognise their strengths and develop them. Of course a balance needs to be struck between pushing and protecting our children. Its important to both encourage children to try (so their skills improve, and they experience the opportunity to build up confidence) but also protect children from unrealistic expectations.

8. Try not to compare your child with other children. Comparing your child  to other children can make your child feel inferior and bad about themselves. Instead, where parents demonstrate their love for their child for the person he/she is, not how he/she performs in relation to others, children develop a positive self-image.

9. Keep a child-friendly home. Encourage play dates and inviting your child’s friends to your home. It gives you the opportunity to observe your child’s social skills and also learn about their personality, what social skills they have and haven’t yet developed. You can then set about addressing (modeling and/or teaching your child) some of the more desirable behaviours for example, developing sharing, turn taking, managing anger, learning how to lose etc.

10. Criticise the action or behaviour, not your child. If your child does something negative or undesirable, say to your child, “This X behaviour is not acceptable and we do not behave in this way at home”. This is much more appropriate than saying to your child “You are a bad naughty boy!”.

11. Give your child some power and let them make some choices. When children make their own age-appropriate choices, they feel more powerful, and develop a greater sense of self. Children as young as two can start making choices and considering the consequences of their decisions (which hat to wear; what fruit to eat, what game to play first). Sometimes giving your child more legitimate power (or choices) helps them to be less challenging with you.

12. Support healthy risks. Encourage your child to take small risks, such as tasting a different food, having a go on a new piece of playground equipment or playing with a new child. Though there’s always the possibility of failure, without risk there’s little opportunity for success. Also resist the temptation to intervene or jump in offering to help your child prematurely. This can sometimes diminish self-confidence over time (your child may get the message from you, that you don’t have confidence in them and that they are always in need of protection).