Psychologist and author Lee Hausner explains that there are two main components of a child’s self esteem – unconditional love and a feeling of competence. Knowing they are loved and valued no matter what happens is the most basic building block a child must have for developing a healthy self-esteem. If they feel your love is contingent upon their achievements, children may become afraid to challenge themselves for fear of failing and disappointing you. Children also need to feel that they are competent. They need to feel as if, with enough hard work, they are capable of achieving anything.
Parents can help to build a child's self-esteem by making sure they are exposed to healthy challenges and have plenty of opportunities to learn new things. Signing kids up for things like sports teams and music lessons is a good way to do this. At first, the child will likely be apprehensive and even afraid. If they persevere, they will not only learn a new skill set, but they will have overcome their fear of participation. The more times a child faces and overcomes a fear or challenge, the more capable and confident he or she will feel overall. Psychologist and author JoAnn Deak warns that when we encourage kids to avoid uncomfortable situations, we are actually hindering their capacity to develop good self-esteem.
Parents should also take care not to fall into an over-praising habit. You should certainly point out your child’s positive traits and express pride in their efforts and accomplishments. Psychologist and author Edwin A. Locke suggests parents need to be realistic about their child’s achievements. Don’t reward every little thing a child does. Express honest encouragement when they succeed and honest encouragement when they fall short. Tell them they did a great job, and that if they keep practicing they’ll get better and better. Telling kids that they are the best at everything or invoking the “everyone gets a trophy” line of thinking creates a very delicate sense of self-esteem. What a child will develop is a deep need for the approval of others rather than genuine confidence. The child who grows up being fawned over for everything they do may well grow into an adult who expects to be constantly lavished with attention and accolades.