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Building self-esteem in children is crucial because it ultimately underpins their choices and decisions in life. If we believe we have worth and value, we are more likely to take care of ourselves and explore our full potential. 

Here are 10 ways that can help build a child’s self-esteem:

1. Praise effort and attributes over ability

It’s always great to achieve what you set out to do. However, there are times in life when we try our best and still fall short. Failure is a part of life and there are many lessons in failure that quite often become stepping stones to success. Children need to learn that things like effort, resilience & persistence are worth celebrating. By praising these attributes, you reinforce their importance and teach children that their greatness doesn’t just exist when they are winning or being perfect. 

2. Focus on behaviour rather than character

People are not their behaviour. Quite often challenging behaviour is a sign of a child’s struggles, and it is important for us to be the calm in their chaos. By linking their character to their mistakes, you imply that they are not good enough as a person, which is hugely detrimental to self-esteem. Just because they have got something wrong does not mean they are a bad person, so our language needs to reflect this. When addressing behaviour always refer to the action and not the child.

3. Give choices and autonomy 

Nobody likes to feel controlled, and it can be very disempowering when we feel backed into a corner. By giving children choice it empowers them to be in command of themselves and builds confidence because it gives them a voice.

4. Own your mistakes and apologise

Just because we are adults does not mean that we always get things right. By owning our mistakes and apologising, we teach children about responsibility and model that it’s okay to get things wrong. Modelling perfection gives children a very high, if not impossible standard to live up to. However, by taking responsibility we pave the way for children to do the same and build their confidence in us because they know that we are authentic. 

5. Let them take risks

Our natural reaction is quite often to put out a hand to help children when they are in risky situations. Obviously if a child is at serious risk we should always help them. However, by allowing them to take small risks it can build confidence and self-esteem because it shows them that you trust their ability and it also gives them the opportunity to push their own limits and problem-solve.

6. Nurture their uniqueness

Every child is unique and has their own strengths and weaknesses. When a child walks to the beat of their own drum, even if it’s a beat we don’t understand, it is important for us to see the greatness in their individuality and to advocate that being different is okay. Quite often, the people who change the world are the ones who don’t think the same way as everyone else.  

7. Lead with love

Behaviour is always communication and the children that are in need of the most love are often the ones displaying the most challenging behaviour. Setting boundaries should never equate to a withdrawal of love. You can still be firm and reinforce that you care. By doing this, children learn that despite their mistakes, you are still their safe space and that regardless of these mistakes, they are still loved and supported to move forward in a better way. Our job is to nurture and guide children. Everyone makes mistakes, however, people are far more likely to see the error of their ways if they have support and love, rather than feeling rejected and backed in a corner.

8. Let them work things out

It can be hard to watch children struggle, but if we rescue them too quickly, we are taking away the opportunity for them to problem-solve and to overcome difficulty. There is no better feeling than coming out the other side when you face a challenge and knowing that you achieved that outcome. Giving words of encouragement and telling children that you believe in them will inspire them to keep trying. Quite often the feeling of wanting to quit comes just before a big breakthrough. By allowing children to get to that point and gently supporting them through it, we are giving them the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and into their greatness. 

9. Make sure your expectations are age appropriate

Children look at the world through a lens influenced by their age. What seems small to us will be huge to them, so it’s important to adjust our expectations and to make sure that they are realistic. 

10. Let them help

By allowing children to help us with different jobs we give them the opportunity to demonstrate their competence and we also teach them that their contribution is valued. This in turn builds self-esteem and self-worth because we are showing them that we trust their ability, value and appreciate their help.

About the author:

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

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