While packing bags and backpacks for school, there’s one essential that may be overlooked: Children’s self-esteem. Although many children may feel confident and self-assured at home, they can feel differently in the classroom. When children have high self-esteem, they’re less likely to reflect negative feelings toward others.
“If children can treat themselves kindly, they’ll treat others that way,” said Carter Peters from KinderCare Learning Centers’ education team. “When children feel encouraged, supported and loved, they are able to give those feelings to others.”
Consider these three tips to boost your children’s self-esteem.
Be Your Children’s Cheerleader. When praising or complimenting children for their achievements, be specific and include affirmation for positive character traits, such as “You were so kind to help Ms. Delmar take her recycling out” or “I’m proud of you for seeing she needed help and offering it.” Being specific with your compliments reinforces the idea that your children are kind and helpful. Eventually, they’ll offer others the same positive affirmations and be less likely to look to outside influences to define their sense of self.
“When children have high self-esteem and self-worth, they know when someone’s opinion of them is untrue,” Peters said. “Children with high self-esteem become adults capable of believing in themselves.”
Give Children Space to Safely Express Their Emotions. While it’s important to intentionally connect with your children one-on-one, it’s equally important to give them space to come to you for help. Let them know you notice when they don’t seem like themselves but try not to push them to share before they’re ready.
You can talk with your children about the ways they can communicate with you, aside from one-on-one conversations. If they find it easier to communicate their feelings through writing, you can go to the store together to pick out a journal. Children who are not yet proficient writers may prefer to draw pictures about their feelings. No matter the method, be sure to make time to check in with your children.
Teach Emotional Literacy and Replacement Skill Behavior. You can help your children move beyond comprehension of basic emotions – happy, sad, mad – and toward an understanding of more nuanced emotions. When children can identify their feelings, they’re closer to developing healthy responses.
Commonly labeled “bad behaviors” are often young children’s way of communicating something is wrong, so they may need help identifying the emotion driving their actions. It’s important for children to understand that while their feelings are acceptable, their behavior may not be. That’s where replacement skills – acceptable ways to express emotions – come in. For example, try saying “It’s OK to be mad. It’s not OK to hit other people. When you’re mad, you can hit a pillow.” (Family Features & KinderCare)