How to develop strong self-esteem & independence in our children

Written on 6th September, 2022

What can we do to work on strengthening our kids self-esteem at school and for their future?

Here is a real-life example of how Camilla dealt with a situation of her son not wanting to wear school shoes to school!

I was horrified when one morning my son refused to wear his expensive new school shoes.

“I’m not wearing those shoes, I’m wearing my trainers”

“But you’ve got to. They’re your school shoes”

“Well Fred wears trainers to school”

Now here I was on slightly rocky ground. It was true, Fred did wear trainers and the school’s policy on shoes was a bit unclear.

It always makes it much harder as parents if the rules at home or elsewhere aren’t clear or followed through on, but I really wanted my son to wear the shoes we’d bought.

I couldn’t work it out why Nico was refusing to wear the shoes though.

At that moment it was time to leave the house and I didn’t know what to do.

I figured I had three options:

  1. Just insist he wears the school shoes and have a massive battle on my hands
  2. Let him wear his trainers and deal with it another time
  3. Or find out what it was about and wind up being late for school.

I decided to let him wear his trainers and told him we’d talk about it that night.

I wanted him to wear his school shoes because they were designed for young feet and made of leather (not to mention the cost)

So that evening, I prompted him a little:

“You didn’t want to wear your school shoes today. I was wondering why not?”

“I just want to wear trainers”

“Hmm, I know your feet get quite hot in trainers all day. So, I’m wondering if it’s anything else?”

“Fred says my shoes are girls’ shoes”

Ah – so that was it.

I was facing the dilemma we face so often as parents.

What do we do?

Buy different shoes to avoid being teased or strengthen their ability to cope?

This brings me to the subject of self-esteem.

Many children will be starting a new school soon (or maybe have already started) and the greatest gift we can give our children is to work on strengthening their self-esteem. More about what I did further down.

Here are 5 powerful ways to improve a child’s self-esteem

1. Mistakes are good!

Don’t jump in to rescue them. We need to respond positively to any mistakes they make. For example, little children will really struggle to put on shoes. They often put them on the wrong feet too. Instead of saying ‘come here and I’ll do it for you’ or ‘you’ve done it wrong’ see if you can get them to try again. “Hey, you worked so hard to put your shoes on by yourself. I’m wondering if it feels a bit uncomfortable as normally they’d go on different feet. How about you try swapping them over?’

2. Praise effort, not results

The work of psychologist Carole Dwek has proved over and over how valuable it is to develop our child’s perseverance by praising the effort they put in instead of the result they get.  If they tell you they won the handwriting prize, instead of saying ‘how clever you are’ or ‘that’s brilliant’ which could give them the impression good writing (or anything) is a fixed talent, say ‘you’ve been working so hard on your writing, now you can write a whole sentence’ ‘you put so much effort into your pencil control and you worked so hard to make sure the letters stay on the line. That’s what earnt your prize’.

Children will work much harder with this kind of praise and realise the value of hard work more easily.

3. Set them challenges

We need to stretch our children to try new things or to move out of their comfort zone.  This doesn’t mean throwing them in the deep end (literally or metaphorically) but we can help them to do things they might shy away from. An example might be to go to the counter in a café and order the food. Or to join in an after-school activity, even if they don’t know the other children. “I bet you can’t” can work quite well in these circumstances. Or managing the transition – I’ll stand behind you at first while you order our drinks.

4. Validate all their feelings

Research has shown that when we show children that all emotions are ok, it helps them be more robust and be much less likely to be paralysed by emotions like fear or embarrassment. So, if they are afraid, instead of telling them “It’s fine, nothing to be afraid of” we need to say something like “It’s normal to be afraid of doing something new. Going to a football class feels strange when you don’t know people.” Or “I think when you tried to climb the slide and missed the step, you felt embarrassed. It’s annoying when we try things and they don’t work at first”.

 5. Praise their qualities

It’s so easy to take our kids positive qualities for granted and only notice the things they don’t do or the qualities they don’t have.  So try to notice and mention things like kindness, patience, willingness to have a go, bravery, sense of fun, curiosity or being flexible. ‘When I dropped you at school this morning, you gave me a quick hug goodbye and ran in. That was so brave of you’.

So how did I deal with the shoe issue?

Well, I used another technique – one I go into detail in my course The Parent Survival Academy.

So what did I do to help my son?

We did a role-play. How could he respond to his friend without sounding defensive?

We practised what he could say in response to the teasing.

It included things like giving no reaction to the comment and saying:

“Right, I’m going to play football, you coming?”

When we empower our children to stand up to bullying tactics or show them how to ignore them, we strengthen their ability to deal with so many of the challenges they face.

The next day, he wore his school shoes and when he came home he told me “I did that thing we practised and he stopped mentioning the shoes”.


This blog was brought to you by Camilla McGill of My Parenting Solutions – parent coach and mother of 4. Why not grab Camilla’s free booklet ’10 best ways to prepare for school’ to show you ways to help your child be more independent, manage the separation, have easier morning and more!

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