- What is self-esteem
- Benefits of high self-esteem
- How to build self-esteem
- How to help children build self-esteem
Aren’t you tired of the “Think positively, and you’ll have higher self-esteem” kind of advice?
Although it would be nice and convenient, most people cannot think their way to higher self-esteem.
Read on for more practical tips.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is a person’s subjective evaluation of their worth as a person1. It represents a person’s overall positive sense of themselves. People with high self-esteem perceive themselves as being respected and accepted, and they believe they are of value to others and can positively impact society2.
Benefits of High Self-Esteem
In almost every culture, high self-esteem is regarded as desirable.
It is generally assumed that high self-esteem is essential for success in classrooms, workplaces, sporting events, and even music recitals.
Promoting high self-esteem and preventing low self-esteem are widely considered important objectives that require interventions. A large amount of self-help literature has been created to teach people how to build and sustain their self-esteem for a better quality of life.
There’s a good chance you’re reading this because you’re looking for ways to improve your self-esteem or your child’s.
But before diving in, let’s look at what self-esteem can and cannot do for us.
High self-esteem correlates with good outcomes
Significant positive relationships exist between high self-esteem and a positive outlook in life.
For children, high self-esteem is associated with good academic achievements3 and prosocial behavior4.
In adolescents, it predicts better mental and physical health, better economic prospects, and less risky behavior.
A higher level of self-esteem in adults is associated with less criminal or antisocial behavior5.
Overall, stable and high self-esteem is correlated with better mental health6, such as less anxiety and fewer depressive symptoms7.
But Is Self-esteem a cause or effect
However, not all psychologists agree on the causal relationship between self-esteem and life outcomes. Rather than being a cause, some believe that high self-esteem is the result of positive outcomes8.
This theory makes sense because when you succeed at what you are doing, you feel better about yourself and have higher self-esteem.
While the answer to this chicken-and-egg problem remains unclear, two types of benefits, whether direct or indirect effects, are certain9:
- Enhanced initiative
Individuals with high self-esteem may have the confidence and initiative to take charge or engage in new opportunities.
- Pleasant feelings
A high sense of self-esteem is almost inseparable from happiness. Almost everyone seeks happiness and life satisfaction in some form.
How to Build Self-Esteem
Building your own self-esteem is slightly different from helping a child improve theirs. However, it follows the same principles as explained.
Researchers have found that self-esteem has three dimensions: self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity10.
Self-worth: Do I Deserve?
Self-worth is the degree a person feels positive about themselves, including whether they feel good and valuable, view themselves as deserving of respect and acceptance, and experience self-liking. It is often the internalization of how people treated them in their formative years11.
Self-efficacy: Am I capable?
Self-efficacy is the belief that a person is competent, can affect the environment, and has control over their own life. It is a healthy sense of self-competence. This dimension is built through positive experiences of attaining one’s goal or achieving positive outcomes through actions12. Some researchers focus on these two dimensions of self-esteem, called global self-esteem, whereas others believe there is a third dimension – authenticity.
Authenticity: Who Am I?
Authenticity is knowing that one can be their “real self” to others, expressing themselves in ways that are coherent with their inner feelings and thoughts. It is often influenced by the beliefs, values, and morals in one’s culture13.
By considering these dimensions, you can strengthen your self-esteem in a number of ways.
Keep a close circle of peers who value you
Humans are social animals14.
When you feel like there is no one in your life that accepts and respects you, it can be very difficult to maintain a positive sense of self-worth.
If you don’t have friends who value you for who you are yet, get out of your comfort zone and make new friends. You will be more likely to meet new people who can help you reach your goals and lead happier lives.
Being respected and appreciated for who you are allows you to be your authentic self, which is an important aspect of self-esteem.
Seeing a psychotherapist can be helpful if it is difficult for you to make new friends.
Distance yourself from relationships that drag you down
You may have critical parents or a perfectionist friend who strives to improve you.
But if you’re always criticized or told that you are worthless, it can be difficult to feel good about yourself15.
Distance yourself from people like that if you have some in your life.
Stop comparing with others
Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous and meaningless game. It can easily erode your self-esteem, and it’s not going to help you get ahead.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is that you keep improving yourself every day. In addition, focus on loving yourself and being happy with who you are right now.
Stop being mean to yourself
Many of us are more critical of ourselves than we are of other people.
Stop it. Stop being so mean to yourself.
Accept compliments from others, let go of negative self-talk, forgive your mistakes, and draw on your strengths rather than dwelling on weaknesses.
Challenge your negative thoughts
Letting go of negative self-talk is easier said than done. One way to accomplish it is to challenge your negative thoughts.
When you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, stop and think about whether or not that thought is true.
Ask yourself if your negative thoughts are true when you notice them.
For example, if you tell yourself, “I’m just not good at this,” try asking yourself a few questions:
– What’s the evidence for that?
– What’s the evidence against that?
– What would I say to someone else who was struggling with this same thing?
Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are practices that allow you to focus on your breath and thoughts and become aware of your present moment.
By observing how you feel and think, you can catch negative thought patterns as they emerge and work through them.
In neuroimaging studies, researchers have found that mindfulness meditation alters the neural activity in areas of the brain associated with self-esteem16.
Practice positive self-talk
Make positive self-talk a habit and practice affirmation daily.
It isn’t just about thinking positively. It is about reminding yourself of your strengths.
One’s self-esteem is positively impacted by positive self-talk, while depression is negatively impacted by it17.
Exercise, especially playing team sports
If you haven’t been exercising or playing team sports, start now.
Exercising can significantly improve one’s self-esteem, especially for those with poor self-esteem.
Physical exercises can increase your sense of self-efficacy18. Participating in group sports also improves your sense of competence and feelings of self-worth19.
Focus on your strengths
Self-efficacy, i.e. feeling capable, is an integral part of self-esteem.
Find your strength in different aspects of life and develop it. It doesn’t have to be work-related. It could be a hobby such as craft, sports, outings, volunteer work, or something else you enjoy and are good at20.
How to Help Children Build High Self-esteem
Parents can build high self-esteem in their children by strengthening the three dimensions of self-esteem: self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity.
Unconditional love and support
Children need to feel that they are valued, loved, and supported unconditionally to have a high self-worth21.
The best way to show unconditional love is to be accepting, supportive, and encouraging instead of critical. Acknowledge your child’s positive behavior and achievement and show that you are proud of them.
Accept your child unconditionally without social comparisons.
Every child and even siblings can have very different personalities and strengths, so don’t compare them to each other (or to yourself).
Accept your child’s authentic self. Give them opportunities to discover what they enjoy and develop their talents, even if they may be very different from your expectations.
Find New Challenges
The Self-Determination Theory suggests that humans have an innate need for competency.
Being able to conquer difficult challenges and learn from our experience is a great way to build self-efficacy, which is essential to building high self-confidence.
Find new challenges for your child that are challenging enough but not impossible to overcome to build their sense of competence22.
It may sound weird, but there is a right and wrong way to praise children to build their sense of self-efficacy.
One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is to think that praising their child lavishly is the best way to build self-confidence. But it can actually backfire, leading to low self-efficacy.
A job is a “good job” when something is done better than the average. If everything is a “good job,” then nothing is good. It is just average.
Parents who praise everything their children do as a “good job” are essentially saying that they do not hold them to higher expectations because they don’t think their children can reach them.
So, praise sincerely for what it is23.
Praise their effort or the process rather than the result to nurture a growth mindset so that they believe in their own ability.
“I like how creative you were when coming up with a solution” is better than “The work is beautiful.”
Praising the effort (creative) and process (coming up with a solution) encourages them to do more of them.
When children receive praise for their results, they may think they must produce perfect work, resulting in fear of trying new things.
Also See: How to Praise a Child
There is no lack of studies on the relationship between parenting style and self-esteem. Unfortunately, the results have been inconclusive.
There is, however, general consensus that more accepting and less controlling parents help their children develop their self-esteem. These parents are warm, supportive, and involved with their children’s education24.
In contrast, authoritarian, strict, or controlling parents tend to raise children with a negative view and lack of confidence. These are parents who may have a high standard but are cold and critical of their children25.
Rigid rules and psychological control limit their chance to make choices and express preferences.
Hovering over them and giving help before they need it, or rescuing them at the first sign of difficulty, deprives them of a chance to learn, grow, and develop their self-efficacy.
Teach Positive Self-Talk
Self-talk is inner speech or self-statement that one tells themselves.
People with low self esteem tend to have thought patterns that overgeneralize the implication of a negative experience. And then these negative beliefs further lower self-esteem. Together, they create a vicious cycle of negative thinking.
Healthy self-esteem comes from believing that you are a valuable and worthy person.
Help children develop positive affirmations or replace negative thoughts with positive self-talk. Learn about their negative self-talk and help them reappraise26. Help them appreciate positive things in life.
Self-confidence can also be developed by journaling, which allows a child to express their emotions and reflect on daily experiences27.
Beware of social media
People can be cruel on the internet.
A study shows that ostracism can severely impact a child’s self-esteem even when the perpetrators are unknown, like those on social media.
Having a sense of belonging is important in developing good self-esteem because it allows a child to feel accepted and connected to others.
Educate your child on the importance of choosing a good affiliation online.
Also See: How Social Media Affects Teenage Self-esteem
Don’t Ignore Bullying
Peer victimization, such as bullying or relational aggression, is related to a plethora of negative outcomes, including low self-worth.
Bullying can lead to adverse mental health outcomes, especially if the child is younger or if the bullying situation lasts for a long time28.
Physical exercises can enhance not only children’s physical health but also their mental health. Recent studies show that exercising can improve self-concept and self-worth in children and adolescents29.
Final Thoughts on Building High Self Esteem in Children
Helping children build a healthy level of self-esteem means empowering them to become the best version of themselves. Self-worth, self-efficacy, and authenticity play an important role. Focus on them, and your child will believe that they are loved and capable, not because you tell them but because they feel it.
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