Promoting Self-Esteem in Children and Adolescents
Self-esteem is defined as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.” When it is examined further, self-esteem refers to how a person views himself/herself in society. Children, at any grade level, go through many changes throughout their lives, including identify formation and figuring out their place in the world. While self-esteem does not equal happiness, it can help children and adolescents feel more at ease with trying new things, overcoming challenges, and advocating for themselves.
Children and adolescents spend the majority of their time at school and are constantly surrounded by peers and social media. Peer pressure and bullying are prevalent issues, and when they are coupled with negative internal messages, being a child or a teenager becomes much more challenging. Social media and videos often portray skewed images of how a person should look, and children and adolescents are susceptible to these mixed messages. It is important to remind children and adolescents that what they see in the media is not an accurate representation of the average person. A key component of development is discovering and embracing one’s individuality, and children and adolescents should be encouraged to be proud of their unique abilities and qualities.
Focus on the Individual
A national report found that 98% of girls feel tremendous pressure from outside sources to look a certain way. One finding from the Dove campaign revealed that 92% of girls have a desire to change something about their appearance, and body weight was the most common response. These numbers alone are staggering and serve as a reminder of the influence social media and other sources have on children and adolescents. Focusing on strengths, interests, and hobbies are useful ways to build self-esteem. Instead of spending time obsessing over looks and weight, encourage your child or adolescent to be kind to themselves and embrace their inner beauty. If your child or adolescent has a sibling, avoid comparing them to each other and point out each person’s defining qualities. Encourage your child or adolescent to use their voice to express their thoughts and emotions by maintaining open lines of communication.
Assertiveness can also be helpful with building confidence since it is an effective communication skill where a person is able to clearly express their wants and needs while taking into consideration another person’s requests. Model assertive behavior for your child or adolescent by prioritizing responsibilities and saying no if you feel the request is too much to handle at the moment. Setting reasonable expectations for your child or adolescent is another way to build self-esteem and letting them know that taking on more than they can reasonably handle can lead to extra stress.
Look at the Big Picture
Embracing a child or adolescent’s unique abilities are essential factors for building self-esteem. The focus should be on the activity/hobby your child or adolescent enjoys doing rather than their skill level. Taking risks and letting them make mistakes are also ways to increase self-esteem because they are able to learn from the experience and find an alternative solution. If your child or adolescent is not involved in a sport or activity, encourage them to find something they like such as volunteering or learning a new skill.
Promoting individuality is another way to build confidence and self-esteem since most children and adolescents tend to feel like they have to follow the crowd and act a certain way. A person’s perceived differences are what makes them unique, and no one can take that away from them.
Letting your child or adolescent know how proud you are of them for their accomplishments is important, but it becomes more beneficial when the praise is specific. For example, if your child got an A on their spelling test, tell them you are proud of their success because of the two days they spent reviewing the word list. Increase positive self-talk by turning negative comments such as “I’m bad at skating” into positive statements like “I can try to practice more often.” More importantly, motivate your child or adolescent to overcome challenges and let them know that you will be there for them no matter the circumstances. Remind them that they can accomplish anything as long as they try and work hard.
On a final note, self-esteem can be fostered in various ways, but the most important strategy is to encourage your child or adolescent to be their authentic self. Promoting acceptance and giving your child or adolescent room to grow will help them thrive and be successful now and later on in life.
Monique Uribe, M.Ed. is a Child and Adolescent Therapist at Penn Foundation, providing individual and family therapy, self-esteem groups for girls, and intensive outpatient services for adolescents. Monique uses a client-centered approach with the individuals and families she works with. She earned her Master’s of Education degree in Counseling Psychology from Temple University and has special interest in the areas of anxiety, depression, emotional regulation, family/peer issues, ADHD, self-esteem, body image, and play therapy.