Is low self-esteem in children and teenagers increasing?
Research clearly identifies that low self-esteem in children and teenagers is on the rise, and we are often made aware of this in the news. As a result scientists and psychologists have been trying to work out why.
The role of overprotective parenting
Professor Martin Seligman is one of the leading experts in this area. He thinks that one of the reasons our attempts to boost self-esteem in children has been unhelpful is because we have prioritised “how children feel over what they do.” In protecting our children from difficult situations and feelings, we have hindered their ability to learn how to cope with challenges. As a result, they are under-equipped to handle life’s ups and downs. Many children have never had it so good or so easy. Yet they seem to feel more powerless and less confident than ever.
Where do praise, criticism and failure and problem-solving fit in?
The table below shows how our efforts may unintentionally backfire.
1. Giving constant praise for a very little achievement or effort
|2. Protecting our children from constructive criticism.||
|3. Protecting our children from ever experiencing failure||
|4. Focusing too much on “self-love” and “self-importance”.||
|5. Taking over and solving their problems for them rather than with them.||
Areas of self-esteem in children and teenagers
Psychologists think that a child’s self-esteem comes from these three components:
Competence: How skilled and effective a person perceives him/herself to be in a situation.
Resilience: The ability to adapt successfully to life’s challenges.
Optimism: Being hopeful that difficult situations can have a positive outcome.
People develop confidence in different ways. We all have different temperaments, strengths and weaknesses, and therefore it is unrealistic to think that anyone, is confident in all circumstances. For example, a child who is naturally rather quiet and doesn’t like to be the centre of attention may be labelled under-confident. However, she may be perfectly confident in many other aspects of her personality.
Positive change in self-esteem in children and teenagers takes time
What’s important is to gradually teach your child to work out:
- Who they are;
- What they enjoy;
- How to keep learning and growing, and
- How to feel comfortable about their place in the world.
It is also perfectly normal and healthy for children to go through both overconfident and under confident phases. Most adults will remember feeling under-confident in situations as teenagers. With experience, determination and perseverance, as well as love and support from family and friends, most adults have overcome this.
What can I do, to help my child feel good about herself/himself?
Building confidence and self-esteem in children and teenagers is complex, and is more than simply giving praise to your child, or encouraging “positive self-talk” and discouraging “negative self-talk”. I will be adding blog posts about how to build your child’s resilience, competence and optimism (the building blocks of self-esteem in children and teenagers).
You can help your child develop these skills throughout her childhood because it is never too late! The ideas we will be covering are:
1. Ideas for developing your child’s feelings of competence
a) Help your children experience “FLOW”
b) Show empathy for your child’s struggles
c) Support your child to cope when struggling but don’t rescue
d) Let your child make mistakes
e) Praise effort more than achievement
f) Make sure your praise is specific, not general
g) Teach the art of determination and persistence
Ideas for developing your child’s resilience.
a) Help your child develop a “Growth Mindset”
a) Teach your child to problem solve
c) Encourage your child to think flexibly
d) Teach your child to overcome difficulties rather than avoid them
e) Develop your child’s ability to ask for help
3. Ideas for helping your child develop Optimism.
a) Help your child recognise their thoughts
b) Challenge your child’s thinking patterns
With thanks to Nicola Gorringe, clinical psychologist and co-author of Brighter Futures: A Parents’ Guide To Raising Happy, Confident Children In The Primary School Years (parenting help)
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