Sometimes parenthood feels like tightrope walking. On one hand, I want my kids to follow their dreams, live up to their potential, and accomplish greatness—all of which take hard work, determination, and often a few growing pains. (Cue Rocky Balboa’s theme song.) On the other hand, I don’t want them to feel overwhelmed by the constant barrage of messages telling them to look a certain way, think a certain way, act a certain way, or accomplish in a certain way to be good enough.
See? A tightrope. Lean too hard one way, and they don’t move forward. But lean too hard the other and their self-esteem and self-confidence plummet. So as parents, we have to stay right in the middle, balancing our encouragement and expectations with our reassurance that they, as individuals, are good enough.
How to Help Your Child Feel Good About Themselves
Here are four keys to remember when helping our kids know they are good enough.
Performance Doesn’t Determine Worth
Sometimes we fall into the trap of defining our kids by their accomplishments. “He’s the soccer player,” or “she’s the straight-A student.” It’s easy to do, especially when that message runs on replay online, at school, in the workplace, and in social groups: “You are good enough because of the successful things you do.”
However, while these accomplishments are commendable, they don’t determine our children’s value. And using them to label our children certainly isn’t how to improve a child’s self-esteem. Dr. Christine Bradstreet writes, “Keep performance and worth separate. Your child is loved and good enough because of their worth as a human, not because of awards and placement.”
Help your kids know that they are loved and valued just for being your kids. Even vocalize it to them: “You are enough for me.” That’s it. No further expectations to be of value.
Does that mean you don’t encourage them to work hard and achieve? Of course not. Help them shoot for the stars. But if they fail or flounder or even just break even, help them know they are good enough because of who they are, not what they do.
Average is Okay
Somewhere along the way, we’ve adopted the idea that perfect is the only acceptable outcome, that only high achievers succeed, and that not being the top equals not good enough. The internet perpetuates this lie with the magic of airbrushed images and tightly controlled narratives.
Reality check! For every teenager that makes the basketball or drill team, two or three try and are cut—and hundreds don’t even try. For every teenager that gets asked to prom, accepted to the college of their choice, or invited to the party, several do not. For every kid that makes all the right choices, some stumble and fall. So remember when you’re teaching your daughter self-confidence or helping your son discover self-worth to remind them that it’s okay if they don’t make the team or get the invite.
And it’s not just okay. It’s perfectly normal and acceptable.
As parents, we buy into the lie that our kids need to be involved in all the extra-curricular activities, have all the toys, and do all the things to find their value. And if we buy into that idea, our kids hear the same message.
But the reality is that average is okay, especially when it relates to performance. Our kids are exceptional people who may experience some average (or even below average) results at times. But remember, performance doesn’t determine value. So average performance doesn’t decrease worth. We might need to put this reminder on replay until it sinks in.
This leads to the next key to helping our kids know they are good enough. Remind them frequently that failure is a good thing. If our kids are stuck in the vicious cycle of thinking that their value is linked to success, they will fear taking risks, trying new things, and growing.
So praise failure. Or more specifically, praise failing forward.
This year at school, my supervisor is encouraging our faculty to take chances in the classroom. While we still have the same objectives and parameters to meet, he has challenged us to try new methods. And then, if (and when) they fail, he encourages us to learn from the failures so we can be stronger going forward. Thus, the idea of failing forward.
While that sounds counterintuitive, praising failure gives our kids permission to discover who they are in a safe environment. In each failure, praise their efforts and encourage them to try again—at what they failed at or an entirely new endeavor. Because sometimes walking away is the right answer. Each time they do, their self-confidence will grow, and they will believe they are good enough for who they are and not what they do.
Finally, pay attention to your kids. When it comes down to it, they will feel good about themselves when they know you feel good about them. Spend time with them. Ask them about their hopes, their worries, and their struggles. Show an interest in what they love and sincerely support them. Licensed marriage family and therapist Erica Turner says, “More than anything, kids feel worth from consistent and considerate attention. They feel valued when we treat them like they matter.”
We’re parents. We’re hardwired to find solutions, give direction, and worry about our children. But sometimes those natural responses create distance and leave our kids feeling like they aren’t good enough for us because we’re always telling them to do something to measure up.
But you can succeed in teaching your daughter self-confidence and boosting your son’s self-esteem just by taking an interest. Turner continues, “Instead of lecturing or remaining silent, ask your teen questions. Be curious about what they’re doing and what’s happening for them. Encourage them to reflect on their choices and options in different situations. Give them an opportunity to talk about how they feel without making light of it, or saying it’s just high school, it’s not that big of a deal, or you just want to because that’s what your little friends are doing.”
You’ve Got This
If you’re wondering how to improve a child’s self-esteem or how to help your child feel good about themselves, start by paying attention to them and then teach them these important truths: their value isn’t determined by their performance, average is okay, and failing forward means progress. And remind them often, both with words and actions, that they are good enough.