Supporting Parents. Fostering Change.

Raising Your Child’s Self-Esteem: Step 4

Praise and discipline your child, choosing words carefully

Your words are very important to your child. The way you offer praise and deliver criticism can help your child develop high self-esteem.

Try the following techniques:

  1. Be specific with your praise
  2. Praise your child immediately following a positive action
  3. Make sure you praise genuinely

Children will detect it if you’re being insincere. Children do need to know that not everything they do is wonderful. Sometimes a “you can do better” helps them to strive toward a goal.

Praise “Steps in the right direction” rather than “the end result”

For instance, rather than waiting until a homework assignment is finished before you praise your child, praise him for spending lots of time on one assignment or comment on how well he concentrates.


Use positives rather than negatives

Criticize constructively. Avoid words like “don’t.” Instead, focus on the good behavior you want to encourage. For instance, instead of saying, “Don’t put your shoes on the kitchen table, ”try saying, “I’d like to see your shoes in the closet where they belong.” Or even point to the shoes and then to the closet, saying, “Shoes. Closet.”

These words let your child know what’s expected of him without putting him down. This technique seems simple, but actually is quite difficult to do. “Don’t” words tend to come much more easily than “Do” words.

Avoid using labels like “always” and “never”

Children feel trapped by these labels. Instead of saying,“You are always losing things!” say “You brought your coat home from school yesterday. I like when you remember your things.”

Accept your child’s feelings

No parent likes to see a child feeling hurt, but in an effort to stop your child from crying or being angry, you may discount his emotions, saying things like, “That’s nothing to cry about,” “You’re acting like a baby,” or “Get over it!”

Such comments leave your child feeling misunderstood and embarrassed by his emotions. Try instead to acknowledge his feelings.

For instance, if your child is upset because he has to go to the dentist and he’d rather play with his friends, say, “I know you are disappointed, but it’s important to take care of your teeth. We’ll be leaving in five minutes.” He still has to go to the dentist, but you have empathized with him first.

Set clear limits

  • Make sure that when you give your child a direction that you mean it.
  • Say the command clearly and firmly.
  • Don’t turn the direction into a question: “Would you like to clean up your room?” (Your child will say “No!”).
  • Avoid the word “let’s”: “Let’s clean up your room. ”
This implies that you’re going to help him clean.
  • Before you give a command, make sure you have your child’s attention – turn off the TV or computer.
    1. Look into his eyes.
    2. Give the command.
    3. Wait silently for compliance (at least 30 seconds).
  • Impose an immediate consequence if the command is not followed. For instance, “Go upstairs and brush your teeth before bed.” If the direction is not followed, say, “You have not done what I have asked. For each minute I wait for you to go upstairs, you have to go to bed that many minutes earlier.”
  • Instead of nagging, set clear limits. The problem with nagging is that it’s not just annoying to your child, it also leaves you very frustrated. The chances of you blowing your top after a bout of nagging are pretty high. And yelling at your child is not good for your child’s self-esteem.

Check back on Friday for Step 5


Cathi Cohen, LCSW, CGP



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