How to raise kids with healthy self-esteem, according to a therapist

Low self-esteem can affect every aspect in a child’s life. It can also manifest in a variety of ways.

Some indicators of low self-esteem include struggling to tolerate negative emotions, says Irina Gorelik, a child psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group, or shying away from taking credit for certain actions.

A child might also be challenge-averse and either give up too quickly or be too perfectionistic.

“Kids who may present as most outgoing and confident can struggle with self-esteem, while kids who are slower to warm up may be better at trusting themselves,” she says.

If you feel your child has low self-esteem, or are worried they might develop it, there are steps you can take to boost their confidence now and help them cope with negative thoughts.

Let them feel bad

Dismissing feelings can backfire and make kids more self-conscious, Gorelik says. Talking kids out of negative emotions or telling them they are overreacting might invalidate their feelings, she says.

It might be hard at the time, but it’s more beneficial for them in the long run to learn now how to deal with bad feelings.

“Allow them to experience the full range of emotions and help them learn to trust their own experiences,” she says.

Allow them to experience the full range of emotions and helping them learn to trust their own experiences.

Avoid ‘fixing’ their feelings

Don’t treat their feelings like a problem to be solved.

“Instead of jumping in to ‘fix’ difficult feelings, focus on listening when kids are sharing about challenging situations and helping them label their emotions,” Gorelik says.

And let them try to work it out themselves, she adds: “Allow children to problem solve on their own as much as developmentally appropriate, with encouragement & support.”

Focus on a growth mindset

Some pieces of praise can be more helpful in raising a child’s self-esteem than others. Encourage your child to notice or take credit for their efforts, instead of their results, Gorelik says.

“Communicate [the fact] that skills are built through effort and hard work, rather than focusing on the outcomes only,” she says.

If your child scores a point at a game, you can say, “Wow, you spent many practices trying to do that, how does that feel,” instead of focusing only on the feeling of scoring the goal.

If they draw a picture you could comment, “I see you worked very hard on that. How did you think of using those colors,” instead of saying complimenting how pretty the picture is.

You want your child to be internally confident as opposed to depending on validation from external sources or rewards.

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