Promoting self-esteem in children

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Self-esteem is how we feel about our abilities and strengths, including our ability to overcome challenges.

Key points

  • Help your child build their self-esteem by supporting them in building an identity by trying new activities and developing new skills.
  • Use sincere and well deserved praise to build your child’s self-esteem.
  • By modelling good coping skills your child can learn from you.
  • Heathy family relationships will help to build your child’s self-esteem.

Self-esteem is how we feel about our abilities and strengths, including our ability to overcome challenges.

Your child’s illness, and the difficulties that come with it, can lower their self-esteem. However, you can help your child maintain their self-esteem by encouraging them to build their own identity, praising their efforts, being a positive role model and promoting good family relationships.

Support your child in building an identity

As a parent of a child who has an illness, you may feel extra protective of them. However, all children need opportunities to experience some independence in order to feel confident.

Your child can build their self-esteem by trying out new activities and developing new skills. This helps them build an identity that is less focused on how their illness sets them apart from their peers.

When trying new things, children will have to overcome challenges. This is an opportunity for their confidence to grow.

Help your child by:

  • helping them set goals (not too easy and not too hard) that match their personal strengths and abilities and take account of any limitations due to their illness
  • reminding them that it is normal to struggle at times
  • teaching them that persevering when things are tough can help them develop new skills and this will help them deal with other challenges in the future
  • encouraging them to try a variety of appropriate activities of their choice and tell you what they would like to continue doing; this is important when your child may feel a loss of control over other parts of their life
  • giving them a say in some minor decisions about their medical care, if appropriate, even if it is as simple as what colour bandage to use

Praise your child’s effort and growth

Praise is another way you can help your child build their self-esteem. When it is sincere, praise fosters your child’s confidence and prepares them to meet their next challenge.

Give effective praise by:

  • focusing on your child’s efforts rather than their personal traits
  • giving praise that is well deserved
  • making sure your praise is sincere and meaningful

If you tell your child “You’re so strong,” or “You’re so smart,” for instance, they may feel bad about themselves if they do not succeed at something. However, if you praise your child’s efforts instead, you help your child maintain their self-esteem even after hardship and give them confidence to try again.

As a parent of a child with an illness, you may feel the need to praise your child constantly. However, praise that is too frequent, or exaggerated, can be meaningless and make your child feel like they have to perform exceptionally well all the time or do only the bare minimum to receive encouragement.

Most importantly, show your child that you love them regardless of their struggles. Remind them that no one is perfect and that you will be there for them no matter what.

Model good coping skills

Parents are important role models. Your child observes what you do and learns from it.

Help your child develop good coping skills by:

  • showing that you persist and stay positive in the face of your own setbacks, instead of giving up
  • taking time for yourself or seeking help from a mental health-care professional if needed

Taking care of a child with an illness is a difficult responsibility. Your level of stress and your belief in your ability to be a good parent can affect your child’s self-esteem. How you cope through tough times may influence how your child copes with their own challenges, such as increased symptoms or unsuccessful treatment attempts.

Promote healthy family relationships

Healthy relationships in the family also help build a child’s self-esteem. A child with a medical illness, just like any other child, will compare themselves to their brothers and sisters.

Do your best to maintain healthy relationships by:

  • treating each of your children as fairly as possible when it comes to chores and standards of behaviour
  • being sensitive to the limits imposed by your child’s illness
  • spending one-on-one time with each of your children
  • making time for enjoyable family activities and routines
Last updated: May 8th 2019