Nurturing your kindergartner's self-esteem may seem like a hefty responsibility. After all, a feeling of self-worth lays the foundation for your kindergartner's future as she sets out to try new things on her own. "Self-esteem comes from having a sense of belonging, believing that we're capable, and knowing our contributions are valued and worthwhile," says
"As any parent knows, self-esteem is a fleeting experience," says Nelsen. "Sometimes we feel good about ourselves and sometimes we don't. What we are really trying to teach our kids are life skills like resiliency." Your goal as a parent is to ensure that your child develops pride and self-respect — in herself and in her cultural roots — as well as faith in her ability to handle life's challenges (for a 5-year-old that may mean standing on one foot for several seconds). Here are ten simple strategies to help you help boost your child's self-esteem:
Give unconditional love.
A child's self-esteem flourishes with the kind of no-strings-attached devotion that says, "I love you, no matter who you are or what you do." Your child benefits the most when you accept her for who she is regardless of her strengths, difficulties, temperament, or abilities. So lavish her with love. Give her plenty of cuddles, kisses, and pats on the shoulder. And don't forget to tell her how much you love her. When you do have to correct your child, make it clear that it's her behavior — not her — that's unacceptable. Instead of saying, "You're a naughty girl! Why can't you be good?" Say, "Pushing Nina isn't nice. It can hurt. Please don't push."
Carve out time to give your kindergartner your undivided attention — this can do wonders for a child's self-worth because it sends the message that you think she's important and valuable. And it doesn't have to take a lot of time. Stop flicking through the mail if she's trying to talk with you or turning off the TV long enough to answer a question. Make eye contact so it's clear that you're really listening to what she's saying. When you're strapped for time, you can let your child know without ignoring her needs. Say, "Tell me all about what you did at school, and then when you're finished I'll need to make our dinner."
Establish a few reasonable rules for your kindergartner and, when appropriate, ask for her input when you make or update the rules. For instance, if you tell your child she has to wear her helmet when she rides her bike in the driveway, don't let her go without it at a friend's house. Knowing that certain family rules are set in stone will help her feel more secure. It may take constant repetition on your part, but she'll start to live by your expectations soon enough. Just be clear and consistent and show her that you trust her and expect her to do the right thing.
Support healthy risks.
Encourage your child to explore something unknown, such as trying a different food, finding a best pal, or riding a bike. Though there's always the possibility of failure, without risk there's little opportunity for success. So let your child safely experiment, and resist the urge to intervene. For instance, try not to "rescue" her if she's showing mild frustration over trying to shoot her basketball into her kid-sized hoop. Even jumping in to say, "I'll help you" can foster dependence and diminish your child's confidence. You'll build her self-esteem by balancing your need to protect her with her need to tackle new tasks.
Let mistakes happen.
The flip side, of course, of having choices and taking risks is that sometimes your child is bound to make mistakes. These are valuable lessons for your child's confidence. So if your child breaks a beloved toy through rough handling, help her fix it and encourage her to think about what she might do differently next time. That way her self-esteem won't sag and she'll understand that it's okay to make mistakes sometimes. When you goof up yourself, admit it, says Daniel Meier, assistant professor of elementary education at
Celebrate the positive.
Everyone responds well to encouragement, so make an effort to acknowledge the good things your child does every day within her earshot. For instance, tell her dad, "Julia helped cook dinner." She'll get to bask in the glow of your praise and her dad's heartening response. And be specific. Instead of saying "Good job," say, "Thank you for waiting so patiently in line at the grocery store." This will enhance her sense of accomplishment and self-worth and let her know exactly what she did right.
If your child needs to talk, stop and listen to what she has to say. She needs to know that her thoughts, feelings, desires, and opinions matter. Help her get comfortable with her emotions by labeling them. Say, "I know you're sad because we have to go home now." By accepting her emotions without judgment you validate her feelings and show that you value what she has to say. If you share your own feelings ("I'm excited about going to the zoo"), she'll gain confidence in expressing her own.
Comments such as "Why can't you be more like your sister?" or "Why can't you be nice like Makayla?" will just remind your child of her difficulties in a way that fosters shame, envy, and competition. Even positive comparisons such as "You're the best player" are potentially damaging because a child can find it hard to live up to this image. If you let your child know you appreciate her for the unique individual she is, she'll be more likely to value herself too.
If your child begins to compare herself unfavorably to her siblings or peers ("Why can't I read as well as Maia?") show her empathy and then emphasize one of her strengths. For instance, say, "You're right, Maia does read well. And you're a great singer." This approach can help your child learn that we all have strengths and weaknesses, and that she doesn't have to be perfect to feel good about herself.
Every child needs the kind of support from loved ones that signals, "I believe in you. I see your effort. Keep going!" Encouragement means acknowledging progress — not just rewarding achievement. So if your kindergartner is struggling to sound out words, say: "You're trying very hard and you almost have it!" instead of "Not like that. Let me show you."
There's a difference between praise and encouragement. One rewards the task while the other rewards the person. ("You did it!" rather than "I'm proud of you!") Praise can make a child feel that she's only "good" if she does something perfectly. Encouragement, on the other hand, acknowledges the effort. "Tell me about your drawing. I see that you like purple" is more helpful than saying, "That's the most beautiful picture I've ever seen." Too much praise can sap self-esteem because it can create pressure to perform and set up a continual need for approval from others. So dole out the praise judiciously and offer encouragement liberally; it will help your child grow up to feel good about herself.