Parenting tips to help nurture self-esteem and positive attitudes in our children and teens
If you could give your children a quality that would enhance their chances for leading successful, meaningful and fulfilling lives, what would it be? Though answers may seem endless, many experts say one of the greatest gifts would be instilling a “Can Do Attitude.” Here are eight secrets to help you raise a “CAN DO!” Kid
REALITY CHECK: Real and authentic self-esteem is a combination of a feeling of Worthiness:”I am likeable, loved and worthwhile” and a feeling of Competence: “I have the skills to handle life.” [Based on Nathaniel Branden's work]
Unraveling the Mystery of Building Healthy Self-Esteem
The caliber of our children’s productivity, inner strength, contentment, interpersonal relationships, and competencies is largely impacted by the strength of their self-beliefs. And the best news is there are endless simple parenting moments to nurture positive attitudes in our children.
Focusing on only worthiness-or making your child feel more special than others-is a detriment to a child’s character and relationships with others.
And always rescuing (or “helicoptering”) and solving your child’s problems doesn’t nurture that sense of competence.
So aim to strike a balance in your parenting of building your child’s feelings of worthiness and competence. I love James Dobson’s analogy of the way to boost self-esteem the right way: “Think of a pilot landing a plane at night- he needs those lights to be on both sides of the runway for a smooth landing. So too does your child.”
Here are eight tips from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions that help your child recognize his or her achievements, unique strengths, and cultivate a “Can Do Attitude” and authentic self-esteem.
Secret 1. Discover Unique Strengths
There are so many fabulous opportunities to help our children discover their special talents and strengths. My Girl Scout leader from years ago was a master. Mrs. Woolley made us feel great by pointing out what we were good at. I always marveled at how she remembered our personal competencies. Then one day I discovered her secret when I found her notebook opened to a page filled with notes: “Meghan is interested in acrylics, Kelly’s soccer game, Joanne’s music recital.” It was her way of making sure no girl’s talent was ever overlooked.
Years later I still admire (and use!) Mrs. Woolley’s simple but powerful way of helping kids discover their strengths! It’s a secret we parents should be using far more. The more our children recognize their unique strengths, the stronger their self-beliefs will be. So help your child become aware of his or her own special qualities and talents. (And halt those comparisons to other siblings!)
Secret 2. Celebrate Special Achievements and Efforts
Nothing builds positive beliefs more than succeeding, and those achievements deserve celebrating. One way is having your child start his own Victory Log in a small notebook or journal. Each time your child achieves a special goal–such as finally learn to ride a bike, learn those math facts, or survive her first sleepover–encourage your child to describe the success on a page and then date it.
The book can become a priceless keepsake of a child’s accomplishments that he can continue for years.
For a non-reading child, consider taking a photo of the moment and pasting it into the log.
This activity also helps your child learn to track his own successes and develop internal praise motivation instead of waiting for us to praise or reward those accomplishments.
Secret 3. Focus on Actions Not Appearance
Recent studies show that too many of our kids – especially girls – base their self-esteem on how they look instead of what they can do. The effect on self-confidence is disastrous. So help your daughter focus more on her actions and less on appearance. Gently turn conversations about looks, dates, and dress sizes into topics about plans and goals.
Also, be a role model by discussing your goals and share your pride over any new accomplishments. By talking more about personal achievements and less about appearance, you will help your child develop personal beliefs formed on her accomplishments. In the process she will feel better about herself.
Secret 4. Use Specific, Earned Praise to Cultivate Positive Beliefs
Everyone loves praise, and kids are no exception. But keep in mind that not every little accolade you say will boost self-esteem. And you don’t want your child to become a praise-a-holic expecting every little action to be praised (which does not help self-esteem). Praise that builds “Can Do” beliefs has three characteristics: The praise is deserved, specific, and repeated.
Here’s how to use those secrets of effective praise to help a child recognize a special ability. The simple tip actually helps the child develop a new and positive image about himself.
1. Start by tuning into your child. Look for a special talent, trait, skill or passion in your child that deserves acknowledgement. Maybe you notice your child displays an artistic skill, or a sense of humor. Maybe she’s caring, or persistent, resourceful, respectful, or knows more about dinosaurs than any kid of the block. The more specific the trait, the better.
2. Next, find a moment when he really demonstrates the talent. This is when you can acknowledge the skill.
Word your message so your child knows exactly what he did to deserve your praise:
“Kevin, you are so artistic because you use such wonderful colors and details in your drawings.”
And always use the same word to describe the talent (“artistic” or “musical” or “kind-hearted.”)
Hint: Using the word “because” in your comment instantly makes your praise more specific.
3. Then, praise the same skill or talent several more times over the next few weeks.That way your child will then be more likely to believe the message, and adopt it to form a new belief about himself. Make sure the praise is earned. Quick, little sincere reminders is the best approach. Halt the rewards and keep your money in your wallet. The right words are the best way to boost behavior.
4. Keep praising! Keep in mind that new behavior habits take a minimum of 21 days of repetition. The lower the self-esteem of the child the more frequently you’ll have to repeat the praise. That way your child will then be more likely to believe the message, and adopt it to form a new belief about himself.
You might also take a photo of your child that displays his talent (such as his best painting) or the moment he is engaged in doing his talent (he’s at the table drawing). Then display the photo somewhere so your child can be reminded of the talent.
The moment your child verbalizes the strength and acknowledges his talent or strength is when you know he has internalizes it. You can then help him develop another positive belief about himself…and another..and another!
Secret 5. Accentuate the Positive to Eliminate the Negative
A powerful way to help a child develop firmer self-beliefs is to teach positive self-talk. One of the easiest teaching strategies is to model the strategy in front of your child. Just be on the alert for some positive action you are proud of, and then deliberately acknowledge your deed out loud so your child overhears.
“I love how my recipe turned out.” Or: “I’m really glad I stuck to my exercise program. I lost five pounds!”
At first you might feel a bit strange, but when you notice your child praising his own strengths a little more, you’ll quickly overcome any hesitancy.
Secret 6. Develop a “Can Do” Family Slogan
Negativity can quickly become a habit that is deadly for developing “Can Do” attitudes. So squelch any Stinkin’ Thinkin’ before it starts to breed in your kids!
A mother told me she stopped put down comments with a slogan. Whenever any of her kids said, “I can’t”, other family members learned to say, “Success comes in cans, not in cannots.” It was a simple but effective way of encouraging her kids to think more positively about themselves.
Is there a slogan you might want to start up in your home? Tune into your own statements as well. Your child is listening and internalizes those comments.
Secret 7. Don’t Be a Safety Net
No parent wants their child to suffer disappointments, and often our first adult instinct is to try and solve their dilemmas for them. But watch out: doing so robs kids of the opportunity to find their own solutions. Proble
m solving is exactly the skill kids need when they’re on their own.
Avoid that temptation of rescuing your kid and solving his problems. Instead, step in only when really needed them you are nearby. Children need to build self-beliefs that say, “I can figure things out for myself.” Then do let your child know you believe he can.
Secret 8. Help Your Child Learn From Mistakes
I watched a teacher give a small wrapped present to each student on the first day of school. The children were amazed to find small erasers inside the boxes. The teacher said, “You’ll be needing these this year, because you’ll be making lots of mistakes. That’s how you learn.” Her simple gift helped “erase” the idea that mistakes mean failure, and can be a chance to start again. And it’s an essential lesson for developing “Can Do” attitudes.
When your child makes a mistake, stay nonjudgmental and help her focus on what she’s trying to achieve. You might ask, “How did you want this to turn out?” or calmly say, “What will you do differently next time?” Above all, help her believe she can succeed in her efforts: “I know you can do it. Hang in there.”
As a parent, you have countless opportunities to reinforce your child’s self-beliefs. Your expectations, your reactions and your words can give your children votes of confidence or chip away at their attitudes about themselves. Perhaps one of the most important questions to ask yourself at the end of each day is this: “If my child’s self-beliefs were based only on my words and actions today, what would she believe about herself?” Your answer should guide how you interact with your child each time you are together.
I am an educational psychologist, parenting expert, TODAY show contributor and author of 22 books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for ongoing parenting solutions and late-breaking news and research about child development.