What REALLY Builds Self-Esteem in Young People?? Practical Tips for Parents

Self-esteem is a term that has been used a lot in the past few decades. By now we all know that it’s something we SHOULD be boosting in children, but what’s less clear is HOW.

We’ve heard that we should encourage young people with positive reinforcement and tell them/show them we care about them, but how do we keep them feeling good about themselves when they reach that age where they stop listening to a word we say?? (which these days is getting younger and younger!)

What happens when they’re getting their information online from sources we can’t control, when they’re glued to social media full of unrealistic images they can never live up to, and when they are spending all their time with people who might not treat them very well? What do we do then??

Here are some simple tips and tools that will help you boost the self-esteem of the young people in your family through your ongoing daily interactions:

1.         Establish phone-free zones at home

Create times/spaces (eg at the breakfast/dinner table) where EVERYONE (including you!) puts their phones away. Even if it is just for 10 minutes a day, this time is vital for creating space for your child to feel truly seen/appreciated, which is what builds a deep, lasting, secure sense of self.

2.         Pay attention to the moods/changes in your child

If they are acting more quiet than normal, or more reactive, gently check in and ask them if there is something that they’re experiencing that’s hard for them at the moment (even though child/adolescent reactions can seem completely illogical, there will always be some form of pain that underpins any outward display of anger, withdrawal, or moodiness). The more you SEE this pain, the more validated and reassured your child will be about themselves.

3.         Ask your child about their friendships, and then LISTEN

The more you show them that you are genuinely interested and that you will be non-reactive if they tell you things about their daily lives, the more they will open up to you. Damaging relationships in person or online always happen in a progression – we want to be aware of the little things so that we can help our children deal with them before they become big things like bullying/social exclusion.

4.         Help your child change the way they are SEEING things

If someone is being unkind to your child or they are struggling in a relationship dynamic, their first reaction will usually be to either EXTERNALISE – blame the other person, or INTERNALISE – blame themselves (or often they will do both!) These reactions are ultimately not helpful to the overall self-image of your child, because they both leave them feeling sad, angry, and confused about themselves and their interactions with others. You want to help them see that when other people are unkind, it always comes from THEIR OWN PAIN, and is never our fault. If your child can empathise with the other person and see where their behaviour is coming from, it will be easier for them to set healthy boundaries and make positive friendship choices that keep them feeling good about themselves.

5.         Share your own vulnerable feelings with your child

No matter what your child is facing, if you can remember and recount a time when you faced something similar, or even simply FELT something similar and share that with them, not only will your child feel less ALONE, but they will also begin to see their own strength through hearing yours. This will also help deepen your relationship with them, and encourage them to listen to you much more than they would if you were simply telling them what they “should” do.

These simple steps will help the relationship you have with your child become the foundation on which their positive, healthy sense of self is built, and keep you connected to them even during the years when they are pushing back and pushing away.

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