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Supporting Children’s Self-Esteem Before Schools Return: 20 Tips for Parents

This article has been written by Dr Kathy Weston

1- Recognise their resilience

Our children have been through a lot over the tumultuous months since March. Reflection breeds resilience, so we can help our children to move forwards confidently, by taking time to look back. What have they learned from their experience of lockdown? Can you help them to extract any positives? Were there any silver linings? Why are you proud of their response? Help your child to see themselves as ‘already resilient’ and strong, before they head back to school.

2- Tune in to their interests

Imagine if someone took a real interest in everything that makes you tick and worked hard to give you access to the things you love. Imagine how good it would make you feel. By really tuning in to what interests our children (no matter how wacky), we are boosting their self-esteem and developing their sense of self. If you aren’t sure exactly what floats your child’s boat, consider when you have seen them in a state of ‘flow’; when they are deeply and positively engaged in an activity? Perhaps it is when they are drawing, playing with Lego or listening to music. What can you do to develop and support their interests?

3- Listen out for negative self-talk

From time to time, children might say things which indicate that they aren’t feeling too good about themselves. These ‘Gremlin thoughts’ threaten a child’s confidence and should be tackled head on! Point out that everybody gets these feelings from time to time, but we can do something about them. Gremlins can be proven wrong; look for evidence with your child as to why a particular thought really isn’t true.

4- Talk about fears and worries

It is never a bad idea to get both little and big worries out in the open. Have conversations with your child with an open mind. Use your body language to show them that you are truly listening. Give them time. Coach them to think of antidotes to their concerns. Teach your child to tackle their worries proactively. What could make that worry disappear?

5- Children need chores

Giving children age-appropriate household chores to do can enhance their self-esteem. Why? Because children love to feel competent, grown-up and able to do adult tasks. Also, successfully completing chores should lead to parental praise, which, in turn, boosts children’s self-esteem.

6- Watch your language

Keep the language used in your home as positive as possible. When you are praising or disciplining your children, try to be constructive and kind. If you are co-parenting, try to be kind to one another; parental conflict may undermine children’s self-esteem and confidence.

7- Be a great role model

Model the behaviour and attitude that you wish to see. If you want your children to have a positive attitude to learning, model it. If you want your children to be kind to their friends, show them how it’s done. If you want them to be excited about the future, talk about your own goals, dreams and aspirations. If you don’t want them to be on screens all the time, put your own device down!

8- Teach them body gratitude

We know that physical resilience and positive body image are determinants for children’s self-esteem. The next time that you look in the mirror, try making some positive comments about what you see. Don’t talk about losing weight, dieting or body dissatisfaction in front of your children. Instead focus on how amazing your bodies are (look at all that they are capable of and marvel at what they have helped you to achieve).

9- Role play social situations

Everyone is a bit nervous on their first day. Children may worry about not knowing anyone during their first days back at school. Together, can you role-play scenarios that are likely to crop up? How do we make friends? How can we put others at ease? What if someone is mean? How might we respond? The good news is that every scenario can be practised.

10- Nurture altruism

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, giving back to others can actually make us feel better about ourselves. Why? Because when a child gives back or helps someone in need, they feel a little bit more powerful. They realise their ability to impact on someone’s life and change the world in a small way, and that feels good.

11- Little chats about big topics

Stay close to your children (keep those little chats going about anything and everything). Mull things over together. Talk whilst you are cooking, driving them around, playing with them or just watching the TV together. We are our children’s greatest reference point and compass. As they grow and develop, they will need to be able to talk little things through with someone who loves them unconditionally. Show them that you really are there for them.

12- Make sure your children know who is there for them

Your child loves other adults in their lives besides you! They might adore their grandparents, cousins, favourite aunt, uncle or your best friend. It is good for children to experience relationships with these different people and to develop their own unique friendships. These people might do things differently to you, but sometimes this diversity of approach can really benefit children. Children need to know that there are many people in their world who love them and are there for them.

13- Cultivate social connections

One of the biggest threats to our children’s mental health during lockdown was the absence of play and interaction with peers. The more we can ‘turn the volume up’ on social interaction for our children over the summer months, the better. They have a lot of catching up to do.

14- Help them practise being organised

Some parents dread those first mornings when the school term starts. They can be chaotic and hugely stressful. It takes time for the brain to mature and to cement the skills needed to become a highly organised person; children need to practise being organised. Help them by creating a ‘tick list’ that they can check off the night before school. Have they got everything they need?

15- Dry run the school run

It can feel a whole lot better when we all know what we are doing, where we are going and what the journey is going to look like. Take the sting out of the first day back by doing a dry run. Your child will feel much more confident if they know how it all works. Which bus will they take? Where they will be picked up from? Which school gate will they walk through on their first day?

16- Work on their social skills

What makes a child feel able to put up their hand in class or even articulate great answers in an exam? What helps them to make friends, collaborate with peers and receive positive feedback from others? Social skills. Don’t wait for school to start to hone your child’s ability to converse with others! Great social skills start at home, via the board games that we play, the discussions we have, and by providing our children with opportunities to practise being articulate (family phone calls, answering the doorbell, chatting to the neighbour over the fence and requesting the bill in the café, for example).

17- Set high (but realistic) expectations

It is great to focus on children’s emotional resilience and self-esteem, but what about school-work? Don’t be afraid to set high but realistic expectations for your child. It is important for them to understand that you take school seriously and expect them to do their best. It is actually affirming and self-esteem boosting to have someone believe in you and expect you to do well at school.

18- Avoid the summer slide

Many parents are worried that children’s academic progress will have dipped following lockdown, and this is a valid concern. The notorious ‘summer slide,’ where children’s progress in learning decelerates due to inaction, is commonplace, but this year, it might be particularly acute. The great news is that parents can play a powerful role in reversing this. Children’s academic skills do not need to get rusty, as a little bit of summer work goes a very long way. Look no further than Collins maths and English workbooks to get your child back on track.

19- Help them set small, achievable goals

The evidence is clear: goal-setting is good for both children’s and teens’ self-esteem. Why? Because when we aim for something, it gives us purpose and when we fulfil those goals, we feel even better about ourselves. All children like to feel that they are making progress. By co-creating small, achievable goals, children are less likely to feel overwhelmed and are more likely to feel motivated.

20- Watch their digital diet

At present, many of our children are engaging with the digital world a lot. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but we do need to be mindful of what they are doing and who they are talking to online. Reading negative comments about oneself online or experiencing unkindness can really knock children’s confidence. Teach them to be discerning and help them to navigate the challenges of the digital world. Watch what they are reading on and offline. Is it having a positive or negative impact on their self-esteem?

Dr Kathy Weston is the one of the leading experts on parental engagement in children’s lives and learning. Read more about her work here: www.drkathyweston.com or follow her on:


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