Your child’s self-esteem – that is, her feelings of self-worth and the extent to which she values herself, her abilities and her achievements – has a huge effect on her progress.
Children with a high level of it tend to be happier, more content, achieve more in school and have better friendships. That’s why developing it should be top priority.
But it is not as simple as just telling her she is marvellous, that she is terrific and that everything she does is wonderful. Of course, praise and encouragement can have a positive effect – when used cautiously and in moderation.
Yet, if it is too extreme – especially if the excessive praise is totally unjustified – over-praising can actually backfire and lower self-worth even further.
One explanation for this is that unrealistic praise makes a child with low self-esteem feel too much pressure to achieve at a level that is beyond her reach. In other words, she knows that she doesn’t really deserve the praise and, so, worries you expect too much of her.
Here are 10 ways to boost her self-esteem, without overdoing it:
1. Help her achieve success
Find tasks that you know she can cope with and then praise her for her effort. Gradually increase the difficulty of each challenge.
2. Differentiate achievements
Be ready to point out that while she doesn’t achieve in every single thing she tries, not every activity is equally important. For instance, the fact that she can name colours is much more significant than the fact she cannot run as fast as her friend.
3. Criticise positively
Too much negativity can reduce her self-esteem, even though it is intended to encourage her. By all means, point out the fact that she didn’t get the answer correct, but try to do this gently and in a way that doesn’t leave her upset.
4. Polish up appearance
A young child who is encouraged to take an interest in her appearance is more likely to have strong self-esteem. Physical appearance matters to your four-year-old’s psychological growth. Encourage her to look neat and tidy.
5. Play up strengths
Whenever she tells you that she won’t try something new because she lacks the necessary skills to achieve it, encourage her to think about all her strong characteristics. Point out previous times where she had self-doubt and yet, eventually succeeded.
6. Stop comparing
You may be tempted to encourage her to improve by comparing her to her siblings, but this strategy will probably only make matters worse. It is best to treat your preschooler as an individual.
7. Let her decide
Your child’s self-esteem will rise when she is involved in making small decisions about herself – for instance, what clothes she wears and what breakfast cereal she eats. This empowers her, building her self-confidence.
8. Praise when she deserves it
Remember that she thrives when given realistic positive feedback from those whose opinion she values (Mum and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, her carer). Used in moderation, praise from others makes her feel good about herself.
9. Chart her progress
Point out how, for example, she could name only one shape last week but, this week, she can name more. She probably does not notice these small improvements in her development, so highlight them.
10. Use positive language
Chosen carefully, your words of encouragement can boost her self-esteem. Phrases such as “I know you can do it”, “just do the best you can” and “I am pleased you tried hard” lift her feelings of self-worth.