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Self-Esteem: The Bottom Line for Parenting  

All parents want their children to feel good about themselves and to live happy, productive lives. It is a good impulse, but many of the ideas that have been put forth as aids in helping children develop positive self-esteem can backfire in the long run.  To end this series on self-esteem, I offer three suggestions on how to develop positive self-esteem in an effective way.

First, communicate your love and care for your child. Period. They need to know that you see them as special simply because they exist. Not for any qualities that they have but just because they are your child and you love them. Some parents have trouble with this idea, feeling like they have to always be teaching a lesson or encouraging some level of growth, but unconditional acceptance and love provide a good foundation for growth.

Second, when you do praise them for something, focus on things they do rather than things they are.  What does that mean? Praise them for working hard, expressing kindness, honesty etc. rather than for being smart, or pretty, or some other characteristic they don’t have control over. When they receive support for things that they can alter and grow it will help them develop more confidence. It is also helpful to focus on processes rather than outcomes.  That is, rather than focusing on a grade or the outcome of a game, focus on their diligence in studying or their hustle and hard work on the field.  Certainly you can support their appreciation of a good grade or a sports win, but focus on how they achieved it more than the outcome itself.

Finally, don’t protect your kids from failure and pain.  Good self-esteem isn’t supported by always having success and you are not doing your children any favors if you teach them they should expect success all the time.  It is important they learn to tolerate failure and the discomfort of not achieving what they want.  They will have to face disappointment in life and will do much better with it if they feel emotional support from those most important to them, you, in their first brushes with disappointment.