One of the biggest misconceptions about creating healthy self-esteem in children is that praise is the priority ingredient in building it. An unintended outcome of praise can actually be to deplete self-esteem. Why? Because too much praise causes children to become dependent on what other people think, instead of focusing on what makes them happy and how they feel about themselves and their actions. Praise promotes pleasing others and relying on others for validation.
So what do you do instead to build self-esteem and help raise confident children?
Give meaningful input, encouragement, and effective feedback. When we engage children and teens to help them understand themselves better and accept their true value and uniqueness, the natural result is higher self-compassion and confidence. When positive feedback is given thoughtfully, it enables children to connect the dots of their behavior to the results of acting in a particular way. It clearly shows children their impact in their world and gives them helpful information so they can replicate productive actions in the future or even improve upon them.
Influence of Parents on Child Development and Self-Esteem Building
If you’ve been doling out praise frequently, try switching to more meaningful feedback that is encouraging. A parent's influence is crucial in developing self-esteem and giving children the skills they need to be successful in their lives. One way that a parent can increase their impact is through giving meaningful feedback and capturing teaching moments. This relevant and encouraging feedback over many years is a vital building block for a child's budding personality. Aim for responding to behavior consciously and constructively.
Below are a handful of critical components when giving constructive feedback that ensure building strong and healthy self-esteem in children and teens.
5 Essential Elements of Giving Effective Feedback
1. The feedback must be believable to the child or teen. Instead of saying, “You are so amazing!” try making it more relevant and believable to the child by saying, “What amazes me about you is how consistently you apply yourself to your studies even when you’re in the middle of a demanding soccer season.”
2. Effective feedback needs to be specific so that the child understands unmistakably what is praiseworthy and they can readily act on the feedback. So instead of “Awesome job!” you might say, “It was awesome to see how your effort and intense focus landed you that A in science. Do you feel pleased with yourself?”
3. Encouragement is internally motivating, meaning that children are motivated from inside, rather than being dependent on validation from outside. This feedback often inspires the child to take their behavior, skill, or accomplishment to the next level and increases their self-worth. Instead of “Good girl!” you could say something like, “Cleaning up the kitchen with you last night was lots of fun because you were so cheerful. And your help enabled our family to have more time to play together.”
4. Whatever is said must be sincere. If you make a comment to manipulate, the child may resent it and often disregards the feedback as just a way for you to get them to do something you want.
5. Encouragement invokes self-reflection and introspection, which causes the child to understand himself or herself better, and to recognize their contribution and value in the world. Instead of, “Good work!” you might ask, “What do you think enabled you to improve that C in science to an B?” or “What do you like most about the picture you drew?” or “What was the most gratifying class in school this year?”
Secondly, allow your children their own experience and emotions.
Give them permission to feel, even when it's inconvenient or requires attention. Anxiety and depression is rampant and one of the reasons is an inability for a child, teen, or adult to feel and to process their emotional experiences. Instead, we've learned to oppress, judge, deny, dismiss, pretend, and minimize our emotions even when they are so critical to well-being.
Children develop emotionally all through their lives but the lion's share of emotional development is done between ages 0-8. (For a detailed layout of the stages of emotional development, see our article "How to Build Healthy Emotional Development in Children.")
One of the mistakes parents can make is to feel like a child's upset, frustration, or anger is somehow linked to their parenting or failure. Feelings just are. They help us decipher the meaning of our experience and show us what we need or value.
Remember that as you shift your responses from praise to more authentic encouragement, it will feel different, even a little contrived at first. And your result will be different, too. And when we shift from trying to stop our children's emotions to allowing them to feel fully while supporting them, it might feel uncomfortable and clumsy initially. This is often true when we begin using a new skill. Be patient as you practice.
Keep Yourself Encouraged as a Parent
One of the most important things in parenting is to keep yourself encouraged. It's a tough job; one that's always changing. We cannot be fully present to our children and teens unless we are also attentive to ourselves. Compassionate parenting begins by being compassionate with yourself. Meet your own needs and take good care of yourself. Stay encouraged as you give encouragement—and watch the astonishing results!
Related reading: "Visionary Parenting Is the Key to Capable and Happy Children"
For an in-depth look at praise versus encouragement and effective feedback, read my parenting article “Praise--Sweet Destroyer of Self-Esteem” and for more tips for positive parenting and building healthy self esteem in children, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CREDIT: The principles above are taught in-depth in the Redirecting Children's Behavior course created by Kathryn Kvols. If interested on becoming an instructor or attending a class at the Heartmanity Center, please call 406-577-2100 for our next class.