Boosting a young person’s self-esteem at different ages
Children’s Mental Health Week is a good time to get talking about how you can help boost a child’s self-esteem. Here’s some advice on things you can say and small changes you can make as a family to help your child feel more confident and self-assured as they develop at different ages.
Younger children (5-8 years)
Get your child to look at their strengths and interests
At this young age, your child is unlikely to understand what is meant by the term self-esteem or have any experience of using social media just yet.
Now is a good time to ask them what things make them feel good about themselves, like what they enjoy doing in their spare time and the things they think they’re good at. Make it a family challenge where each person has to come up with three things they like about themselves and three things they enjoy doing - moving the focus away from appearances and towards achievements.
At this age, your child may start to be influenced by their friends’ interests - music, sports, clothes - and anything that may be trending. Ask them what they think makes them different from their friends. Make it clear that it’s a good thing to pursue their own interests and hobbies even if they’re not the same as their friends’.
Reassure your child that they don’t need to worry about what other people think — if an activity makes them feel good about themselves, that’s all that matters.
Tweens (9-12 years)
Try to move the conversation away from appearances
By the time a child enters their late tweens, they may be just about to begin — or have just begun — experimenting with social media. Children at this age may have insecurities about their looks and compare themselves to others. You may notice that appearances seem more important to them than when they were younger.
There are some small things that you can do to help shift the focus away from appearances:
Watch what you (and other family members) say about your own looks in front of them - it’s all too easy to make a throwaway comment about how bad you look one day - but if your child hears lots of negative comments like this they may start to judge themselves too.
Avoid complimenting your child on their looks. Of course, it always comes from a place of love but constantly telling them how beautiful, slim, handsome or tall they are can make your child think that looks are very important. Instead, praise them for attributes such as being kind, active, confident, helpful, resilient and hardworking. Congratulate them on how well they completed a piece of work or how impressed you are with their performance in a school play or sports event.
Teens (13-18 years)
Help them to think critically about the images they come across on social media
An Ofcom report found that around three-quarters of children in their early teens have a social media profile and 99 per cent go online for nearly 21 hours a week. Spending this amount of time online can mean coming across enhanced images - making some teens feel inadequate as they can’t keep up with unrealistic beauty standards. It can be difficult to be surrounded by so much of this type of content, especially when going through physical and emotional changes during puberty.
Rather than telling your child to avoid social media, help them learn how to think critically about what they come across online - especially sponsored content and ads that influencers might post. Look at some images together as a family and get them to ask critical questions: ‘Why have they chosen to use that filter?’ ‘What are they trying to sell?’ or ‘How are they trying to sell it?’. ‘Has this image been altered?’ ‘Is it possible/realistic to look that way in real life?’.
Your teen may enjoy following role models on social media, ask them who they find inspiring. Do they know of any celebrities that go against the norm and are confident expressing their individuality? Help them find inspirational influencers - like actress and presenter Jameela Jamil who actively fights against airbrushing. Encourage them to find a balance in what they look at online by finding positive influencers that can boost their self-esteem rather than make them feel bad about the way they look.