Tips for Teaching Children to Feel Proud of Themselves
From the time children are very young, they look to others for reactions to their endeavors. They giggle and look to see if we are giggling, too. They toss an object and wait for our smile and applause. It is a child’s first step toward developing a sense of self, figuring out the appropriate boundaries of behavior and learning about verbal & non-verbal communication cues. While these interactions serve a purpose, they should not become the only means by which a child determines his/her own worth.
From the time they are preschoolers, children need to be taught to feel pride in their efforts and accomplishments. They need to know that they have talents and gifts. They need to feel secure in what they bring to this world with or without the approval of others. There will be times in their adult lives when feeling secure and having integrated their worthiness will serve them well.
We can help children to integrate pride in their endeavors.
Instead of saying, “I am proud of you,” tell children that they should feel proud of themselves. When we say, “You should feel proud of you” to young children, they consider their own actions. Self-reflection is an important skill that wasn’t taught in prior generations. Self-reflection shouldn’t only be about mistakes but should also be about achievements. “Wow! You should be proud of you” teaches positive self-reflection.
Ask children meaningful questions about their own creations. When a child draws a picture, ask, “What is your favorite part of the picture?” When a child paints, say, “Tell me about what you painted.” Take pictures of the amazing block structures that they build to hang up like you would their artwork and ask how they made it so that it stands up. The question “What is that?” is simply not enough.
Let children see you feeling proud of your own endeavors. Children take cues from their most important adults. When the adults around them don’t demonstrate self-worth, it is hard for them to develop their own. When adults can say, “I did this and I’m proud of it,” children will more likely do the same.
Listen. It seems so simple but we have to intentionally take the time to listen well. Listen when children speak to you. Listening is different than hearing. Acknowledge their intelligence by showing interest in their conversations by really listening. Make eye contact. Converse and ask questions about what children say to you. They will learn that their thoughts have value. They will intrinsically start to take pride in their own intelligence.
Encourage independence every step of the way. When a child learns to walk, they shouldn’t be carried all the time. No matter how much of a rush you are in, make time for your young children to independently feed themselves and to attempt getting dressed. When your children can, they need to be allowed to do. Children who master what they view as adult skills feel so grown up!
Encourage decision making skills and make room for mistakes. Teach children that they can make decisions, test those decisions and change course if things don’t work out. In developmentally appropriate ways and within reasonable boundaries, allow your children to make choices. They can pick between two healthy foods for a snack. They can decide which weather-appropriate outfit to wear. Sometimes, they can even pick a fun activity for you to do with them. When children learn that their decisions matter (and that mistakes are okay, too), they become confident in their own abilities. They will be so proud of their self-selected outfit (and it’s fine if it doesn’t match).
Being proud is not synonymous with being arrogant. We can teach children to be proud of themselves while also admiring the gifts their peers, teachers and loved ones bring to the world. It is acceptable for them to feel good about themselves. In fact, it will help to carry them through trying times when they are adolescents and adults.
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