Believe it or not, negatively impacting the self esteem of a child is very easy to do, and something we've probably all unknowingly done, including me. That's because we're often told by our environment to not have low self esteem, and that we shouldn't care so much about what other people think. But that's like telling a short person to be taller - words aren't enough to change what is. If we want to change what is, particularly in regards to self esteem, we must focus on changing our behavior so that they can feel differently and therefore, act differently.
Here are 4 simple behaviors parents and educators can easily adopt to foster high self esteem in kids:
1. Forgiving easily
Quite often, our voice, or the things we say to them, become their internal voice, or the things they say to themselves. Many people struggle with being able to forgive themselves when they experience a failure or embarrassment, but life must go on and without that ability, we can often become too self conscious to truly forge ahead. That is why teaching kids the voice of forgiveness when they are young is so crucial to their ability to forgive themselves later in life.
2. Complimenting courage
Going right along with point number 1, by complimenting a child's courage, particularly during a time of failure, communicates that they are enough even with the "failure" and that is what opens the door for them to try again. After all, self esteem is ultimately about believing someone is enough as they are, otherwise they will not feel worthy.
3. Treat questions like questions
Have you ever asked someone a question like, "Where were you?" and gotten a really defensive response back? Or maybe you've been the defensive person, or maybe both. We're all guilty of these things from time to time, but the truth is, even if there were a hidden intent behind a question, theoretically, questions are not the same thing as accusations or assumptions.
This can be especially problematic when a parent or teacher responds defensively to a question asked by a child, such as "You should be knowing this already" or "I've already told you how to do this a few times, I don't know how else to explain it to you." By dismissing a question asked by a child, we inadvertently communicate to them that they are not worth the effort it would take for us to understand their perspective.
4. Allowing kids to discover the answers when they're stuck
Sometimes, while working with kids, we know the answers to the problems where they get stuck, and instead of allowing them to find the answers at their own pace, we may cave into temptation and just tell them the solution. However, not only does this seemingly insignificant act rob them of the opportunity to arrive at the solution on their own, it also sends them a message about their worthiness - they are falling short of the expectations we have for them. This does not mean we shouldn't assist, because they do need guidance, but rather that we should limit our input to hints and leave the inferring up to them.