Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we focused on monitoring and treating kids for mental health issues: stress, anxiety, depression, etc. However, as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought it would be a great time to focus on a more positive aspect of mental health – how to build resilience and boost confidence and self-esteem in your children. This is especially important not only in the wake of the pandemic and its lasting effects, but also with happier life changes, such as starting a new school year or even the addition of a new sibling.
Healthy self-esteem is essential to a child’s health and development. A confident and resilient child will be better equipped to handle setbacks in life, stress from peer pressure and other unexpected challenges. When children feel more confident, they are better equipped to achieve goals, accept disappointments, succeed in school and build healthy relationships.
Self-esteem can start as early as infancy. As babies and toddlers learn to do things on their own, they develop confidence. Parents can enhance self-esteem by paying attention to their kids, letting them try, encouraging them to try again when they fail and smiling when they eventually succeed. As kids grow older, their self-esteem will continue to blossom as they set and accomplish more demanding goals, learn new skills and lessons at school, and make new friends. While they do so, you should show your unconditional love and support. Even when setting limits or disciplining your child, you can still reassure them that you love them and are acting out of love.
It’s also important to praise your kids appropriately to help build their confidence. You should praise your kids for their effort and attitude, not just their successes. Along with praising your kids when they try hard, you can also give them opportunities to succeed through age-appropriate chores. When they complete their jobs, they feel a sense of purpose by helping contribute to the family.
When your kids fail or encounter a setback, view it as an opportunity for learning and growth. If they made a mistake, avoid harsh criticism such as calling them “bad” or “lazy.” Even if your kid is misbehaving, focus on the behavior itself and how they can do better next time. When kids hear negative messages about themselves, it harms their confidence and self-esteem; if you focus on the behavior, you can turn the incident into a positive opportunity for growth. Correct your kids but focus on what they can do to improve in the future. If they tried their best but still failed, make sure to praise their effort and attitude. Try to put a positive spin on their negative self-talk: If they say they’re terrible at something, focus instead on ways they excel.
Last of all, focus on improving your own self-confidence and on modeling positive behavior. I know personally how very difficult this can be, and it’s certainly not going to be accomplished overnight. Parents are the best role models for kids, and if you focus on self-criticism, your kids will follow your example. Instead, focus on positivity and boosting your own self-confidence. You will help your kids – and yourself – flourish.
Dr. Laura Shefner writes about pediatric care for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is a pediatrician at The MetroHealth System and practices in Beachwood and Parma.