I had coffee with a good friend last week, and as is often the case when I get together with one of my mom friends, we spent most of our time discussing our experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year of motherhood, and comparing notes about all of the things we would do differently if we ever decide to do it again.
I had all but forgotten about our conversation by the time I made it home, but when my daughter asked to see photos of herself when she was a baby the following afternoon, and we started looking through 4+ years worth of pictures and videos together, so many amazing memories came flooding back to me.
First positive pregnancy test, first ultrasound, first cry, first smile, first word, first step, first day of preschool, first day of kindergarten…
It’s all happening so quickly, and my heart fills with love and joy and pride when I think back on all of the things we’ve experienced as a family, and while I wouldn’t trade any of it for the entire world, there is one thing I wish I could change about the last 4 years.
I wish I had been more confident.
I wish I hadn’t allowed fear to dominate so many moments of those first few years of motherhood so that I could’ve lived in the moment, rather than always fretting about what was going to happen next, and whether I would be able to handle it. I’m the first to admit I’ve never been a particularly confident person, and when I watched my little girl dissolve into a pile of tears while struggling to do her writing homework later that evening, it suddenly struck me how impressionable she is, and that she may not be as self-assured as I’ve always assumed.
And with the transition to a new school looming in the not-so-distant future, I know I need to start being more deliberate in my parenting, so today I’m sharing 8 fabulous tips to teach you (and me!) how to build self esteem in kids.
1. IMPROVE YOUR OWN SELF-ESTEEM
When I was newly single in my late 20s, and feeling lonely and depressed and convinced I would never find ‘Mr. Right’, someone (probably Dr. Phil) told me that before I could find my soulmate and develop a happy and healthy relationship, I needed to be comfortable with myself first. And he was right. The moment I stopped obsessing about my failures in all of my past relationships, and started to focus on making the changes I needed to make so I could look at myself in the mirror and genuinely like the person who was staring back at me, everything seemed to fall in place, and a year and a half later I was married to ‘Mr. Right!’
Why am I telling you this?
Because remembering that experience made me realize that before we can build self esteem in our kids, we need to focus on developing those qualities in ourselves first.
Think about it: how can you possibly expect your child to love herself and feel comfortable and confident in her own skin if the one person she looks up to the most is constantly self-criticizing?
2. MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE TO YOUR KIDS
Life was a lot different when I was growing up. Not many women worked outside the home, and they didn’t have the distractions of computers and cell phones pulling at their attention all of the time, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean our moms were more present with us, I think we need to be better at turning all of that noise off whenever we can.
I remember finding this particularly difficult to do when my daughter was little as I enjoyed the break social media gave me when I was in the throes of temper tantrums and sleep training, but now that she’s in full-day school, I find it’s more important than ever to give her 100% of myself in the few hours we have together.
And guess what?
When my smartphone and the TV are turned off, my little girl is more confident and secure in knowing she doesn’t need to vie for my attention, which results in fewer power struggles and temper tantrums. And the more consistent I am in giving her my undivided attention when we’re together, the more comfortable she is opening up to me about things.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. ENGAGE WITH AND LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD
Whenever I’m functioning on autopilot, which tends to happen in the morning when I’m focused on getting us out the door on time, I find I don’t take the time to sit and talk to my daughter. This isn’t something I do deliberately – I just prefer a little peace and quiet in the morning while I plan for the day ahead – but when I make the effort to get up early so we aren’t racing around like crazy people before we leave the house, I am always struck with what a difference it makes in my ability to properly engage with my child.
She has so much to say!
And while some of it is repetitive and not of particular interest to me, she’s a person with thoughts and ideas and dreams and fears, and unless I take the time to actually LISTEN when she speaks, I miss out on the opportunity to not only find out fascinating things about her, but to also discover and discuss things that are causing her stress and worry.
So set your alarm a little bit earlier, turn off your smartphone, practice better time management…and do whatever else you need to do so you can get down to your child’s level and actually LISTEN to what she has to say so you don’t miss something important.
4. DELEGATE AGE-APPROPRIATE RESPONSIBILITIES
An old boss of mine once said, ‘if you want something done, give it to Dani.’ It was meant as a compliment at the time, but my desire to get everything done AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE has actually worked against me in the mom department. I have been terrible at delegating age-appropriate chores to my child, even though I know a little responsibility can go a long way in making a child feel as though they are a contributing part of the family, which subsequently helps to build their self esteem.
So tonight my daughter and I spent some time brainstorming ideas for a chore chart we plan on making together this week, and after practicing a few of the items on our list together, I was overwhelmed with what a boost I saw in my child’s spirits.
By empowering her to take on more responsibility, and praising her for a job well done, I was able to teach her that she’s capable, that I trust her, and that her contributions matter.
It was fabulous!
5. LET YOUR KIDS MAKE MISTAKES
One of the hardest parts of parenthood, in my opinion anyway, is standing back and watching my child make mistakes. I hate seeing the look of defeat and frustration on my daughter’s face when she can’t figure something out, but I’ve recently learned that those periods of frustration are well worth it as the look of pride and accomplishment that washes over her when she learns how to do something on her own brings me the kind of joy and love only a parent can truly understand. So when I have the urge to step in and do something for her when I see her struggling, I do my best to step back and busy myself with something else so that I’m not interfering, and 9 times out of 10 she figures it out all on her own.
And when she doesn’t?
I help her think of ways she can do things differently the next time, and then I encourage her to get back on her feet and try again.
6. ENCOURAGE AND PRAISE YOUR CHILD
I have read lots of different articles over the last few years that suggest we praise our children too much, and while I am sure there is a lot of merit and value in the studies that have been conducted on the long-term effects excessive praise has on the development of children, I refuse to psychoanalyze and moderate how much encouragement I give to my child. Instead, I focus on encouraging her to try things that challenge her, recognizing a job well done, and discussing how we can do things differently when they don’t go exactly as we had hoped.
I also offer rewards for things my daughter really struggles with, and even though most parenting books would suggest this makes me a horrible parent, I’m a firm believer that we know our kids better than anyone else, and that what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others. So regardless of what the Parent Police say, I’m sticking to my guns and I’m not feeling guilty about it because it works for us!
7. SAY ‘NO’ TO NEGATIVE TALK
We all know the importance of talking to our kids in a positive manner, but as my daughter has gotten older, I’ve started to notice how much negative talk we engage in as adults when we think our kids aren’t listening. This often happens when we’re talking to a friend and assume our children are engrossed in their toys, or when we’re talking to our spouse at the end of the day and we believe our kids are asleep, and while we may be talking about ourselves or someone else’s child, the negative messages we send are still the same.
So before you start complaining about your weight, your unruly nephew, the fight you had with your significant other, or anything else you wouldn’t want your little one to hear, do yourself (and your child!) a favor and think before you talk.
And in those moments when you know your child is listening, why not gush about one of her successes? It’s a fabulous way to help build her self esteem!
8. LOVE YOUR CHILDREN UNCONDITIONALLY
I had a rough day a couple of weeks ago, and when I heard a song that reminded me of my dad while I was driving my daughter home from school, my eyes welled up with tears and I felt sad for the rest of the day.
When my husband asked me later that night why I was suddenly missing my dad so much, I felt completely unable to explain it to him. But when my hormones were more level the following evening, I realized what was wrong.
I miss knowing there is someone out there, other than my husband and daughter, that loves me completely unconditionally.
My dad always had patience for me, never talked down to me, accepted me despite all my flaws, and had a way of showing me how proud he was of me, and how much he loved me, without ever having to say anything.
I just knew.
And I hope my own daughter grows up feeling the same sense of love and security from me that I once did with my dad, and that she finds someone as wonderful as my husband to continue offering her the kind of love and support she deserves when I’m no longer able to.
Parenthood is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have, and while there will be days when you’ll question your abilities as a mother or father, remember that half the battle is just showing up. All your kids want is for you to be there for them, and if you can offer them that, the rest will fall into place.
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