3 Easy Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Grade Schoolers

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father and sonMany children go about the first years of their lives thinking they're pretty darn amazing. Those with doting parents hear praise for their every little step and are told they can do anything. We build their self confidence up every chance we get, but then eventually, the world starts to bring them down.

From the first snubs by friends to realizing they're not the best (or even close to the best) at some things, the self-esteem of kids is constantly under attack as they grow older. It's reality, but it's also heartbreaking for a parent to see a child once so sure of herself start to question and doubt herself. So how do we as parents help keep on building that inner confidence so that they can stay strong through all of the challenges that come with grade school?

I spoke Nancy S. Buck, PhD, president and founder of Peaceful Parenting Inc., to get some advice. Last week she provided some tips on how to build self-esteem in toddlers, and this week, she gave some specifically geared toward kids in grade school. Her philosophy is largely the same -- to ask questions that prompt them to think about their actions and choices and to then listen and guide them. Here are three easy ones:

1. “What’s great about you today?”

2. “What did you do at school today that makes you feel proud?”

3. “Who did you help today?”

(This can be changed, added to or varied based on a particular value that parents want their children to concentrate on. So if you want your child to be generous you can ask, “How were you generous today?” or if compassion is an important value then the above fits.)

She also added an extra suggestion:

“Is there anything you want to know from me about something I noticed and appreciated in you today?”

If the child says yes, then answer as specifically as you can and make it about a specific quality or characteristic in addition to a positive physical attribute. Like, “In addition to being the most beautiful daughter I have (only one) I was so proud when I saw you generously sharing your favorite toy with your younger brother after school today.”

If your child says no, then don’t give an answer!

In what ways do you build confidence in your children?


Image via jennifer donley/Flickr 

behavior, elementary school


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Laura Jerpseth

This should be done for a child of any age.

PonyC... PonyChaser

Whatever happened to kids learning self-esteem from the inside? Learning how to do something well, and knowing that they can do it?

You can compliment a kid a thousand times, and they'll never feel as good as they do about themselves when they've worked hard for something and finally accomplished it.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't compliment our kids where appropriate, or give them a boost when they're feeling down, but this constant, "you're wonderful, you're amazing, you're perfect" crap just builds arrogance, not self-esteem or self-confidence. Those come from the inside, and are slow to build.

Flori... Floridamom96

I think it's far more important that we help our children develop self confidence. We need to help our children overcome trials and challenges, accomplish difficult tasks, set and achieve goals, make and keep commitments, learn how to be good and loyal friends, stand up for the weak or mistreated. I do not want my children to be dependent on what others think of them. I guess I'm just agreeing with PonyChaser.

lulou lulou

I agree with pony here and that its just as important to say things like "you should be proud of yourself"  but also read somewhere there - like cosmo or something trashy years ago, that people are more likely to believe something if they think they are not suppose to see it/hear it.  So we try to compliment the kids when they think we dont know they're there, but we do.  Other than that, I always suggest the Last Lecture as a parenting book, because of the importance of failure and getting past that.  Taking risks, etc. Kind of like the lottery tix ads that you cant win if you dont play.

jhslove jhslove

I agree with PonyChaser, too.

the4m... the4mutts

I also agree with Ponychaser. All 4 of my kids have very good self esteem, and thick skin as well. We do our best to treat their opinions as equal to ours, but to also maintain "mom/dad knows best".

The 2 biggest things I did to give them confidence are

1. Listen to their ideas, no matter how off the wall they may be

2. If the idea will not HURT them or anyone else physically, or get them into trouble (like when my 6y/o wanted to break into our best family friends house, to suprise them when they got back in town)

Then I let them try it their way, after explaining why I dont think it will work. If/when that doesnt work, we sit and discuss how their way could have worked better, or what might be a better way.

Their opinions matter just as much as the adults. The trick is maintaining balance, so that they still respect our opinion.

nonmember avatar Ashley

I don't think these questions are about complimenting the child. They're about teaching the child to identify their own skills, accomplishments and kindnesses. That's a good habit to learn early.

rocki... rockinmomto2

I agree with Ashley. These are about getting a child to recognize good behavior in themselves and how they can further help others. Only the last question was about praising your child, which I think should be done whenever your child goes above and beyond expectations. I'm definitely commiting these questions to memory for my children.

nonmember avatar Kathryn

These are terrible questions to ask on a regular basis. Why not continually reassure them the world at large revolves around them? And what is the point of making them ask you to give them a complement? If a complement is warrented, wouldn't most parents offer it freely? It's better to ask kids what happened in their day. Then you can help them problem-solve any conflicts and teach them how to evaluate and reflect on their own work. Let the kids take the lead, here. You are there for guidance if their self-assessment is way off base and to help them think through the potential consequences (positive and negative) of their responses to whatever conflicts they are facing.

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