Many parents today have learned the importance of praising kids. In any place where kids can be found—stores, at the ball game, on playgrounds - we hear parents cheerfully telling them what a great job they did, or how much they love them. But it’s important to avoid ending up in an endless loop of constantly telling our children how awesome they are and how wonderfully they do the smallest things.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, refers to this as “overparenting”—a practice that can lead to children actually feeling less capable or even entitled to special treatment. So how do we boost kids’ self-esteem with honest feedback?
Kids develop self-esteem by getting honest cues from their environment. This includes the people around them and their interaction with objects in their world. Below are 4 things you can do to help them gain a healthy sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy from their interactions with the world.
Allow your child to develop new skills by struggling with things he cannot yet do. Remember that big grin on his face when he finally tied his own shoes? That was a smile of accomplishment! Allow him to get that same feeling from other new tasks—like hanging up his own clothes, pulling a nail out of wood (or hammering it into the wood), or making his own sandwich. The next time your tween asks for something from the corner store, turn it into a math and money management adventure! Hand her some money when you go in, and make her responsible for only getting things that she has enough money for. She can then pay the cashier herself, and count her change. When your teen just has to have the latest gadget, assign monetary value to his chores, then ask him to calculate the number of hours of chores he’ll need to do in order to earn the gadget. You can challenge his patience and money management skills even further by actually paying him the money after each chore. His challenge will be to save the money until he has enough for the gadget.
Tell your child the things you like or admire about her whenever the chance arises, but be sure the praise is honest and on the same level as the quality you’re praising. An example of what not to do is telling her she’s an amazing soccer player after gameplay where she kicked the ball to no one in particular several times, missed several goals, and allowed the opponent to score several goals. Kids know their own limitations, which means they recognize when praise is not genuine. Rather, tell her that you liked how much she hustled after the ball and you’re glad she seems to be enjoying learning to play soccer.
Give your child choices. Offering your child options helps him to develop confidence in his decision-making ability. Some examples are what to wear, what to snack on, where to play, which toy to choose. Giving your child choices can be particularly helpful when teaching him how to balance study and play. They key is to only give options that you’re ok with. If you tell your child he can either play video games for an hour and then go chores or do the chores first then play video games, you must be ok with him choosing either.
Assign age-appropriate chores. Give children responsibility for tasks like putting away their toys, cleaning their room, washing dishes, setting the table, cleaning the bathroom, etc. One of our most important goals as parents is to build our children’s ability to care for themselves. Doing chores is an easy way to build independence and a sense of accomplishment.