Here are 30 simple gestures to incorporate into your daily routine to help your little one develop a sense of worth and a positive self-image.
By Solène Bourque
Your child’s self-esteem is shaped by everyday experiences. Here are 30 simple gestures to incorporate into your daily routine to help your little one develop a sense of worth and a positive self-image.
When they’re young, your child’s self-esteem is mainly built on the attachment relationship you share and the ways in which you view and interact with them. As a parent, you can nurture their self-esteem using your words and actions. When a child feels loved regardless of their behaviour, performance, or abilities, they understand that they have value as a person.
As a result, they believe that they’re worthy of love, and are able to establish relationships of trust with others. Similarly, an infant’s self-esteem develops in response to the care and affection they receive from their parents. Small gestures like washing, rocking, and tickling your baby increase their feeling of being loved.
You can strengthen your child’s self-esteem through simple, everyday words and actions. For them to build a positive self-image, experiencing success isn’t enough. Your child’s sense of worth also depends on how others view and interact with them. Talking about and highlighting your child’s achievements is essential.
There are plenty of ways to help your child’s self-esteem grow over time. For instance, when they’re struggling with a problem, try reminding them of what they’re capable of: “Do you remember the challenge you faced the other day? You were able to . . . You were so proud of yourself, and so was I. You can do it!”
Here are 30 ways to boost your child’s confidence every day.
1. Tell your child you love them
Your child’s confidence develops as they interact with the important adults in their life. As such, they need to hear that you love them unconditionally. Knowing how much you care will increase their sense of safety and trust. Plus, feeling loved will build their self-esteem.
2. Encourage them to try something new
Some children are afraid of the unfamiliar. They might need extra support when venturing outside their comfort zone, whether they’re learning a new game, tasting a new food, or testing their physical limits. Make sure to only put your child in situations where they have a good chance of success. When you encourage and support your child, you teach them to trust in their abilities and take pride in their achievements.
3. Let them make decisions
Letting your child choose which activity or game to play gives them a sense of control over the situation and helps them feel capable. It also gives them the opportunity to express their tastes, interests, and preferences, and to discover their strengths.
4. Ask your child about what makes them feel proud and happy
Consider taking a moment every day (e.g., after daycare) to ask your child a few questions, like “What was your favourite part of the day?” or “Your teacher told me you got dressed for the park all by yourself this morning! I’d love to hear about it.” Asking your little one to talk about their day is a great way to help them reflect on their small joys and achievements.
- Saying hurtful things
When you routinely say hurtful things to a child, they develop a negative self-image. They may end up believing that they’re a bad person and don’t deserve to be loved.
- Comparing your child to others
When you compare your child to another—for instance, by pointing out that they’re not as nice or as talented as their classmate—you lower their self-esteem.
- Setting unrealistic expectations
Be careful not to ask for more than your child is capable of, because this sets them up to fail. When a child experiences repeated failures, they start to believe that they’re incompetent, which negatively affects their self-image.
5. Tell them how much they mean to you as you tuck them into bed
For some children, bedtime triggers separation anxiety. To help them relax and feel safe, remind them that you’re nearby and thinking of them, even when they’re asleep.
6. Give them a few small, realistic challenges
Encouraging your child to show off their skills and push their limits (e.g., by asking them to build a tower using four blocks instead of three during playtime) can help them gain confidence in their abilities and approach challenges head-on. In addition, when you ask them to do small, age-appropriate household chores (e.g., folding laundry, helping you empty the dishwasher), they feel useful and proud of themselves.
7. Let them safely explore their environment
Allowing your child to explore their environment while watching from a distance helps them gain confidence. For example, you could let you baby crawl into the cupboard where you keep the plastic containers, encourage your toddler to chase a butterfly, or let your child swing from the monkey bars at the park without help.
8. Involve your child in your day-to-day tasks
When your child helps with household chores, whether by cleaning up a mess they made or putting away their clothes, they get to test their abilities while contributing to family life. They feel proud and learn responsibility, which increases their self-esteem.
9. Give them a chance to interact with other kids and make friends
Going to the park (link in French), inviting friends over, and doing activities with other children will help your child learn to socialize and form friendships. Plus, if your child feels liked by other children, their self-esteem will grow.
10. Display their drawings and crafts
Kids are proud of their creations. If your child draws a picture, take a moment to describe the colours and shapes you see. This will let your child know you’re interested in their artwork and encourage them to keep drawing. You can also display their drawings and crafts in clear view to make your child feel extra special and show they’re important to you.
11. Downplay a situation that’s making them sad
Children sometimes react strongly to everyday situations. It’s important to take their feelings seriously, because the sadness they’re experiencing is very real. Your job as a parent is to help your child realize that they won’t feel upset forever. Once they see that, it will be easier to help them manage their emotions. When you encourage your little one to say what they’re feeling and talk to them about those feelings, they learn how to verbalize and better understand their emotions.
Self-esteem comes from within
How you view your child has a big impact on their self-esteem, but how you view yourself is equally important. If you tend to put yourself down and have trouble recognizing your own strengths and qualities, your child may also struggle to develop a positive self-image. You are your child’s role model. If you’re confident and easy-going, your child will likely be the same.
12. Celebrate your child’s successes
When you praise your child for an accomplishment (e.g., “Great job! You got undressed all by yourself!”), they feel more capable and are encouraged to repeat the behaviour. If a task is particularly difficult for them, let them know their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
13. Tell them how glad you are to be their parent
When you tell your child how happy you are to be their mom or dad, they feel loved and valued. Knowing that you love them is essential for your child to develop self-esteem.
14. Emphasize the importance of helping others
Your child should understand that while it’s good to ask for help, it’s also important to help others. If you teach your child that help is reciprocal, you’ll stimulate their ability to care and look out for other people. Plus, they’ll gain confidence and learn to trust others.
15. Be there for your child when they’re going through a hard time
When you support your child by helping them find a solution on their own, without doing the work for them, they feel more capable and self-assured. For example, if your child is struggling with a puzzle, you can ask leading questions to point them in the right direction.
Striking a balance
Having good self-esteem means accepting yourself as you are. Your role as a parent is to help your child get to know themselves, trust in their abilities, and learn their limitations, and to support them when they face challenges. In doing so, you’ll show them that they have value and are worthy of love, even if they aren’t perfect.
16. Acknowledge that your child is unique
If you recognize your child’s natural talents (e.g., drawing, ball games, music [link in French], etc.) and talk about them, your child will become aware of these skills and be more inclined to develop them.
17. Support your child’s initiatives
Has your child decided that they want to get dressed without help? Make sure to praise their efforts, even if their clothes are mismatched or put on incorrectly. They’ll feel more confident and proud of their accomplishment.
18. Look through photos of your child together
When you show your child their baby photos and talk about what they were like as an infant, you strengthen your parent-child bond. Plus, they get to see first-hand how important they’ve always been in your life.
19. Help your child recognize their strengths
If your child is feeling discouraged—for instance, because their friend is more adept at drawing or baseball—take a moment to talk about it. Try asking them to list the activities they’re good at to remind them of their strengths. Feeling good about their abilities will help them overcome small, everyday challenges, both at home and at daycare.
20. Encourage them to express their feelings
Teaching your child to put their feelings into words will not only improve their well-being, but also benefit their relationships with others. What’s more, they’ll feel supported and reassured that you can help them express their emotions.
21. Recognize your child’s efforts
It’s important to praise your child when they make an effort—for example, when they try to control their temper, put away their toys, or do something on their own. They’ll become more aware of their progress and abilities, which will increase their self-esteem.
22. Foster their creativity
When you give your child different materials to create with (e.g., art supplies to craft, draw, collage, etc.), you encourage their creativity. By celebrating your child’s creations, which are just as unique as they are, you’ll help them develop their identity.
23. Play with your child
When you play with your child, for no other reason than to have fun and spend time with them, your attachment relationship grows stronger. If you participate in their favourite games, they’ll be proud to show you their skills. Plus, taking a break from your daily routine will do you as much good as it does them!
24. Encourage them to finish what they start
When you help your child start and finish a task (e.g., build a block tower, help you with a recipe, create art), you teach them how to persevere and help them enjoy small achievements.
25. List their qualities
Children gain a sense of self-worth through the eyes of their loved ones, especially their parents. When you point out their qualities (e.g., kind, caring, brave, funny, hard-working), they gain self-confidence and a better sense of who they are.
26. Be kind and patient with them
When you show your love by showing affection, you increase your child’s sense of security and attachment. For example, stroking their hair, smiling when you talk to them, and giving them hugs are all ways to show how much they mean to you.
27. Tell your child you’re proud of them
It’s important to tell your child how proud you are of their accomplishments. They’ll feel more self-assured and become more aware of their strengths and abilities. Keep in mind that your child’s self-esteem grows every time they succeed, receive encouragement, or try something new.
28. Read or flip through your child’s favourite book together
Picking out and reading a book with your child is a great way to strengthen your bond. Plus, your little one will get your full attention and feel extra special during this shared moment. To give them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge, you can ask them to point to or name the objects or people in the illustrations. It’s a great way to highlight what they’ve learned!
29. Respect the pace at which they learn
Every child is different. When your little one tries out a new skill (e.g., eating by themselves, pouring milk, getting dressed without help), don’t expect them to do it perfectly on their first try. Instead, let them learn at their own pace. They’ll be more inclined to keep practising until they succeed.
30. Give your child your full attention when they tell you something
Being available for your child is key. If you take the time to look them in the eye and listen to what they have to say, they’ll understand how much you care about them. By showing interest, you increase their self-esteem and encourage them to confide in you, which further strengthens your bond.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2020
Photos: GettyImages/kate_sept2004, _LeS_, Liderina, SilviaJansen