Whether it comes through observing a teen hanging their head at a social gathering, hearing them disparage their ability to do their homework, or noticing them excessively bragging to cover up insecurities, every parent has that moment when they realize their teenager is struggling with low self-esteem.
If you’re familiar with the feeling, here are a few tips and suggestions for different ways to approach boosting your fledgling adult’s self-confidence.
Encourage the Journey, Not the Destination
One of the biggest ways that a parent can suppress and discourage their child is simply by putting unreasonable expectations on them. Start by stepping back and analyzing your own posture towards your child. Are you always pushing them to be “the best?” Do you keep them focused on the end goal of any and every effort in life?
If this is the case, you may want to reevaluate your approach. Instead of focusing on results, encourage your teen to experience the journey itself. Emphasize the adventure of learning, loving, and living. Provide constructive feedback at times, but don’t overhype the destination. Help them live in — and enjoy — the present.
Facilitate Exploration and Independence
One of the most important roles of a parent is to teach your child how to function and operate as their own individual person. When it comes to teens, in particular, one way that you can help boost their confidence in themselves is by enabling them to explore and try new things.
For instance, if you’re going to paint their bedroom, invite them in on the process. Teach them how color coordination works. Then use the occasion to empower them by having them choose the colors with you. This kind of activity can help to foster a sense of independence that naturally creates confidence.
Embrace Failure…the Right Way
Failure is a key ingredient to a life well-lived — not because it, in and of itself, is good, but rather because it can be the perfect motivator to help you get up and try again. However, persistence and tenacity don’t always come naturally.
If you find that your child is struggling with their past failures, come alongside them and encourage them to get up, brush themselves off, and try again. Don’t bail them out of their predicaments. That will only feed the inner narrative that they “can’t do it.” Instead, encourage them to find a way to overcome their failures and ultimately succeed on their own.
Use Active Listening
Actively listening to and valuing your teen’s opinion is always an excellent way to help them feel valued — even when things are tough.
For instance, if you’re going through a divorce, consider how asking your teen how they personally want to spend time with each parent. After all, we’re no longer in a world where dads are always nothing more than the financial end of parenthood. Giving your child a say in the matter of how they spend their time with each of you can help them feel respected and responsible.
Use Positive Words
Positive words have a huge impact — and so do negative ones. Labeling, insulting, and disparaging can all have detrimental effects on a child’s self-image. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t do things like diagnose a health concern or provide constructive criticism.
However, always be mindful of the kind of words that you use when communicating. Phrases like “that was an excellent try” and “what can you do differently next time?” are far more helpful than “why didn’t you do it the right way?”
Teach a Growth Mindset
Teens often struggle with a “fixed mindset” — that is, a mentality that they are what they are and it can’t change. Counter this natural inclination by teaching your child to embrace a “growth mindset,” a term that insists each person’s basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
This kind of mindset can help your teen realize that they can improve. It can foster a desire to learn and can help them establish greater self-confidence in their abilities.
Finally, if your teen is feeling lost and set adrift — and the many changes of the teenage period of life often lead to this feeling — the simple act of helping them set personal goals like applying to college can boost their opinion of themselves and their abilities. Demonstrate how to identify issues and set achievable goals to address them.
For instance, if they’re struggling with stress from school, help them discover the source of their problem and then team up to find ways for them to manage the stress on their own through habits like practicing gratitude and keeping perspective.
Always Love Unconditionally
Teens are experts at making mistakes. As they grow and branch out on their own, they find ways to goof up that even the most prepared parent couldn’t predict.
So don’t be surprised when your teenager finds themselves struggling with feeling like a failure. Rather than treating them as a child, though, it’s essential that you come alongside them and demonstrate some unconditional love. Offer help from a position of encouragement and counsel. Gently push them to rise to the occasion. Guide them towards learning things like persistence and independence, and occasionally give them some extra structure.
If you can be a steady voice of positive reason in your teen’s life, you’ll be better able to effectively help them overcome their doubts and build up a healthy level of self-esteem before they launch out on their own.