Building Self-Worth in Kids

Uncategorized Sep 12, 2017

I've got a massive fire in my belly about enabling my kids to experience self-worth. 

Maintaining or building self-worth, I believe, is a life-long project. I say I want to enable my kids to experience it because it's not content based learning. It's not something you can teach by repeating "You are worthy! You are worthy!" We have to create an environment that allows them to experience it as part of their own truth.

This morning George (4) wakes up, stumbles bleary-eyed to my side of the bed and wiggles down into my arms under the blankets. 

"Good morning George."

"Good morning Mum."

Pause. Cuddle.

"I'm very proud of you."

"Why? What did I do?"

Break through Mother moment. At 4, George already feels as though he has to do something tangible, physical or external for me to be telling him I'm proud of him. That he has to have been good at something, to have been kind, helpful, beautifully behaved, made great choices, you know, some display of pure awesomeness if I'm telling him I'm proud of him. 

But self-worth is not about measuring yourself based on external actions. It is about valuing your inherent worth as a person. People who experience positive self-worth are more likely to try new things, to have ambitions and believe that they can be successful, to stand by what they believe in instead of being easily swayed by the opinion of others, to believe they are deserving of kindness and respect, to run their own race and to have the resilience to cope with disappointments or set backs in life. 

"Nothing." I say. "I'm always proud of you. Just because you're you."


Note to self: be careful not to only give praise for good behaviour, excellence/performance, and acts of kindness. We can't always be above average OR our best selves. We have busy, messy, chaotic lives. No matter what is going on, or how we have behaved, we are valuable, wonderful humans with infinite potential.

Wait, are we still talking about George, or do we teach what we need to learn ourselves?

So how DO we build self-worth in kids?

Here's a list of things that I do with my kids (who are pre-school age) with the intention of building self-worth (amongst other things!):

  • Give them choices and opportunities to make their own decisions wherever possible, and give them the chance to say no sometimes. (Teach them they can have an impact on the world)
  • Encourage them to 'do talking to each other' and 'teach each other how to share' instead of screaming or running straight to a parent for intervention (help them feel capable they can manage a situation with communication).
  • Give the minimum amount of help required to master independence eg if they can't climb up onto their chair, I give them my hand to use as a step up rather than lifting them into the chair. If they're struggling with a puzzle piece I use open questions to help them as opposed to giving the answer/doing it for them, and then praise how they were able to do it. 
  • Teach independent problem solving at any opportunity
  • Give praise for effort rather than outcome ("You worked really well on that, awesome job!)
  • Find opportunities to expose them to new things/opportunities/experiences
  • Talk about how they may need to get through a bit of a scary bit, to get to the good bit (of new activities). Eg He might feel shy when he arrives at a friends house/frightened at the top of a hill on his bike, but once he practices he will have so much fun
  • Praise practice equally to mastery ("Good practicing, you can almost do it/you're getting much better at that!")
  • Encourage persistence in combination with positive self-talk for tricky things (when he's struggling with his damn seatbelt and getting really frustrated I teach him to take a breath, do a little smile, and say "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...")
  • Re-phrase how they speak about negative behaviours. If he says he was naughty at pre-school we tell him he's a good person, he just made a bad decision. That happens to everyone but we have to apologise and accept the consequences of our behaviour.
  • Acknowledge (and apologise) when we adults make a mistake or make bad decision
  • Teach them to set boundaries with other kids, to be fair and expect fairness from others (because they're a valuable person, who deserves it)
  • Teach good sportsmanship. Give opportunity for winning AND losing. Acknowledge how rubbish losing feels, but no matter how you're feeling you must congratulate the winner
  • Teach them how to teach others (including us parents) how they like to be treated
  • Talk to them, listen to them, and keep listening until we understand them
  • Validate their feelings - even when they seem bizarre!
  • Reinforce their value as a human. Give as much love, acceptance, community and friendship as possible to them, and to ourselves. 

As you can see, a lot of mine are based around reinforcing that they are capable, they have effective skills to deal with life's challenges, and they are accepted and respected unconditionally.

There are millions more opportunities. I'd love to hear yours. Tell me in the comments, what's one thing you do you do to help build self-worth in your kids?

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