Building self-esteem and confidence in children, by Dr Rose Stewart

Our new guest blog on ‘Building Self Esteem & Confidence in Children’ is out now. Take a look!

A few weeks ago I had a really upsetting discussion with my nearly three year old daughter, about what it means to be ‘pretty’. To be honest, I still don’t know where she got the idea that only the jewellery from my jewellery box made her ‘pretty’ – because we try be so conscious about the ‘messages’ she gets from us – but nevertheless, there she was, my amazing little daughter, sitting on my bed draped on various bits of mummy’s jewellery asserting that it was only wearing it that made her ‘pretty’. It was an awful, shocking thing to hear as a Mum.

Cue a minor breakdown from me, some expert advice from Clinical Psychologist, Dr Rose Stewart, and I’m now armed with a few strategies to help our little girl create a more rounded view of herself, despite bombardment from all sorts of sources about how little girls (and children ‘should’) be!

The advice was so useful I asked Dr Stewart to write us a guest blog post for Baby Bird Café CIC, so here it is…….some excellent practical tips for parents, and a wry, tongue-in-cheek look at some of the characters our little ones might be familiar with!

Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy…….

Building self-esteem and confidence in children, by Dr Rose Stewart

 Use Your Words

Anyone who’s watched Supernanny will know that it’s not a great idea to put negative labels on to children. Being called ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ or a regular basis often leads kids down a path of ‘living up to their labels’ and can blind adults to good behaviour and progress that they might be making. But what about the positive labels that we put on to our kids?

It can be really easy to fall in to a trap of only complimenting people in one or two areas of their lives. Little girls might be called ‘pretty’ all the time, while boys might be labelled as ‘brave’ or ‘strong’; and as children go through school they’re taught to value being ‘clever’ and ‘good’. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being called pretty or clever, but if these are the only words a child hears and then something happens that threatens how true those words are, (like failing a test at school, realising that they will never look like Queen Elsa, or crying in front of their friends) it might lead to a confidence crisis because they have built their identity up around their labels.

Kids need to learn that they’re not one-trick ponies, and that people can have a variety of skills and strengths. It can be a really fun challenge to start identifying the wide range of strengths that a child uses every day and using a creative ways to compliment them for it.

 For example – ‘wow you have such strong legs!’

‘I was really proud of how well you were sharing’

‘lovely concentrating! You’re so good at being focussed!’

Model behaviour

Children learn about how to act in the world by choosing and copying different role models. Until they reach the age of around 2½ , those role models will be their parents, who will stay as primary role models for all of childhood. In the UK we’re really good at downplaying our strengths and pointing out our flaws because we don’t want to look arrogant or ‘up’ ourselves, but try to remember who’s listening! By modelling self-acceptance and confidence, we can teach our children to do the same – it’s also a really good thing to do for our own self-esteem and mental wellbeing.

As children get older they’ll start to idolise other people and characters from books or TV. When they do this it can be a really helpful ‘learning situation’ to have a positive discussion about that person’s flaws and how it’s ok for them to be flawed because everyone has strengths and difficulties and that’s what makes them human………

 Very beautiful princess, but also a perfectionist with anxiety issues and has qualities that make her feel different from everyone else




 Very beautiful and kind, but has issues getting out of bed in the morning and is very impulsive (getting engaged after a day???). Also gets gassy when excited.

Super-strong and clever but has a heart condition, is arrogant and isn’t good at letting people in. Has to learn to work together with his friends to save the world. 

Strong & brave, but gets lonely & sad. Has bat issues and trouble sustaining relationships.

Back off

As parents it’s natural and normal for us to protect our kids from any painful or difficult situations that they might encounter in life, but unfortunately sometimes the best lessons we learn in life are the most painful ones. One of the best gifts that we can hope to give to our children is to be self-sufficient and feel like they can cope with what life throws at them. If you’ve watched shows like the Secret Life of 4/5/6 years olds, you might have been struck by how adept children can be at managing their own behaviour and learning how to function in groups.

Learning these kinds of lessons through experience means that they’re much more likely to stick, and it will help your child to develop their own sense of confidence in social situations, which is what we all want for our children isn’t it?