The best thing you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to set a good example. Talk kindly about yourself in front of your child, even if you think they aren’t listening! They might not like to admit it sometimes, but you are your children’s role model and they learn so much of how to be a grown-up from watching how you behave. Try not to focus on looks or what other people think, look after your own mental health and cultivate your own interests, to show them that you too are special and unique. When faced with a problem, try to use positive, solutions-based language. If something’s gone wrong, it’s not immediately important to work out who’s to blame or how it could have been avoided. Look at the situation carefully and work out how to make it right. Show your child that you’re still learning and trying new things even as an adult. If you’re learning a new skill, show or tell them about your first attempt. Children understand abstract concepts best when we can give them real-life examples. So you could talk about how long it took to pass your driving test, or show them one of their baby photos, and talk about all the things they have learned to do since then. Talk to your child about diversity and teach them how to show respect to others. If your child can appreciate difference in the people they meet, it will be easier for them to believe in their own specialness. It can be tempting when your child is doubting their abilities to compliment and praise everything they do. But they’ll get wise to this strategy very quickly! Instead, try to be specific with your praise – for example, if they’ve drawn a great picture, compliment their attention to detail or ask them about a particular part of the drawing. Take an interest in their interests, and they’ll enjoy being the expert. Conversely, if you know they’re struggling or they aren’t trying their best, suggest small ways they could improve or break the process into smaller steps. Peer pressure can be powerful at this age, so let your child know that they are special and wonderful as they are. Try to gently encourage them towards positive role models, and feed their imagination with inspiring books, films and activities. If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, do talk it through with your GP. While almost all children experience feelings of low self-esteem, some may need extra help. There are loads of great resources out there, such as Mind or CAMHS, for information and guidance on children’s mental health.
Poppy O’Neill is the author of You're a Star: A Child’s Guide to Self-Esteem.