Self-esteem will play a crucial role in how your toddler will handle setbacks, peer pressure, and other challenges throughout life when they grow older.
Self-esteem or self-worth is defined as how much you appreciate and like yourself regardless of the circumstances. Children with self-esteem feel liked and accepted, confident, proud of what they can do, think good things about themselves, and believe in themselves.
On the other hand, kids with low self-esteem are self-critical and hard on themselves, feel they are not as good as other kids, tend to focus on the times they fail rather than when they succeed, lack confidence, and doubt they can do things well.
Self-esteem helps kids cope with mistakes. It helps kids try again, even if they fail at first. As a result, self-esteem helps kids do better at school, at home, and with friends.
“We all want our toddlers to have self-worth,” says Dr. Queena Lee-Chua. “But there’s a difference between raising kids who feel good about themselves versus kids who feel entitled.”
Here are some ways parents can build their children’s self-esteem:
Do not give empty praise.
“The way to cultivate self-worth is not by telling them they are number one all the time,” says Dr. Lee-Chua. Overpraising makes kids either start thinking they’re perfect or they try to be perfect all the time—an impossible standard.
Focus on strengths.
Avoid focusing praise only on results (such as getting an A) or fixed qualities (such as being smart or athletic). Offer most of your praise for effort, progress, and attitude. For example: “You’re working hard on that project,” “You’re getting better and better at these spelling tests,” or, “I’m proud of you for practicing piano — you’ve really stuck with it.” With this kind of praise, kids put effort into things, work toward goals, and try. When kids do that, they’re more likely to succeed.
Let them make mistakes.
“Confidence means rising up after failing,” says Dr. Lee-Chua. “So you have to let them experience a little bit of hardship, a little bit of stress.”
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Turn failings into learning opportunities.
Instead of scolding your child for not doing something right, explain what lessons can be learned so that the next time the same situation presents itself, he or she will know how to handle it better. When kids are competent at something, it will make them more grounded. “When they are grounded, they are not going to be bothered much by what other people say because they have self-worth,” says Dr. Lee-Chua.
Make learning fun.
“Let toddlers explore, let them see that the world is a wonderful place,” Dr. Lee-Chua suggests. At every age, there are new things for kids to learn, such as learning to dress, read, or ride a bike. These are all chances for self-esteem to grow.
Working to build your child’s self-esteem is one of the best ways you can spend your time as a parent. Although it may take a little extra effort sometimes, you will be setting your kids up for success now and in the future.