“In a world where you can be anything, be kind” – Unknown.

Such a powerful quote, yet a difficult one to instill in our children. Why?  Because many children are not kind to themselves, let alone those around them.

According to Nathaniel Brandon in his book ‘The Psychology of Self Esteem’, there is no value judgement more important to man, no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation – than the estimate he passes on himself… The nature of his self-evaluation has profound effects on a man’s thinking processes, emotions, desires , values and goals.  It is the single most significant key to his behaviour’.

In short, the way we perceive ourselves impacts so heavily on the relationships that we experience daily.  It’s no different for kids.

It can be very frustrating for parents to have their compliments rejected and their motivating words dismissed.  If a child doesn’t believe what you are saying, they simply will not accept your words.

So how can we put a stop to this downward spiral of negativity when your praise is rejected?

Here are three ways to support a healthy and positive self-image within your children.

  1. Self-reflection – what is your relationship with YOURSELF as a parent? Chances are, if you don’t have good self esteem yourself you are not modelling self-love to your child.  Have you ever observed the way you accept or reject compliments?  Do you put yourself down in front of your child?  Little eyes and ears are always watching and listening.  The way we talk about ourselves and our relationship with our own body, brain and being is modelling to our children how they should think about themselves also.
  2. Describe rather than praise. I know, I know… it’s hard to take away all value words like ‘awesome, brilliant, fantastic’ – and some kids thrive on them.  But for others, it puts pressure on them and creates self-doubt.  There is also a type of ‘measurement’ around those words.  You may say your child is brilliant at basketball, but in their mind several other kids in their team are ‘more brilliant’.  When we describe, we not only let our kids know that we value them, but we also take the time to really stop and think about the things that our children are doing.  For example, ‘You trained every day this week, often arriving early and leaving late.  Your coach has really noticed your dedication.’  Being objective in this way means that your child cannot argue with the facts.  It’s up to them to do what they wish with this information.
  3. Instead of saying ‘I’m so proud of you’, try ‘You should be so proud of yourself’. Once we’ve objectively described to our children what we’ve noticed about their achievements, we can back this up with confirmation that this is something they’ve achieved on their own.  We will not always have experiences in life where people will offer praise and positive feedback and therefore we don’t want our children to purely achieve things for the pleasure of others.  Of course as parents we ARE proud, but we don’t want our kids to just do things to please us.  Sometimes they won’t please us, and that could be a hard fall from grace for those who only aim to please.  Another way of saying ‘I’m proud of you’ is to simply say ‘It makes me so happy to see you work so hard and achieve success!’.

There’s no doubt that building positive self worth is an uphill battle.  We can hear twenty positive things about ourselves, but it only takes one negative to strip it all back to raw insecurities.  With social media setting unrealistic expectations for our young people, it’s going to take a LOT of positive and supportive talk to our children to help them overcome criticism and thrive in a judgmental world.