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Ask the Experts

How do I build my child's confidence?

By Dr. Ron Taffel, Family Therapist

Question:

What are some ideas for helping my son with his self-esteem and confidence? We always say we're proud of him and "good job," but he still seems to have a low self-esteem.

Answer:

Many of us have the idea that saying "Good job! How proud we are of you!" will help our child's self-esteem. It does — to a certain extent. But we have to be careful: resilient self-esteem is based not so much on how many times we say we're proud, rather on how authentic the praise is. Kids learn early on the difference between authentic praise and reflexively saying, "Good job, great work."

If your child has difficulties, it may be that you are praising him enough, but not at the right times. Here's the difference — when he is able to put real effort into accomplishing something that is tough for him, when he is able to prevail over the more difficult aspects of his own temperament — that's a good time to praise. For example, if he usually has trouble waiting his turn, and shows a little bit extra bit of patience, that is a great moment to praise with authentic enthusiasm. Your son will feel it is deserved and will feel genuinely proud.


Dr. Ron Taffel is a noted child and family therapist, and author of Parenting by Heart, Why Parents Disagree, Nurturing Good Children Now, The Second Family, and a guide for child professionals, Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents. He consults with and lectures at schools and community organizations around the country. He lives with his wife and children in New York City.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/4/2008:
"my son is nine he was at a montessori school.it closed and now we were forced to send him to a public school.any way we have seen him go from confident to crying and saying he wishes he didn't have to go to school.we walked him in and pick him up.i told him that i will be working there so he will see us..my husband included.but i just don't see him happy ..maybe it will take some time .is there any thing we can do to help him ?"
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