Three ways to build self-esteem in 90 seconds or less

Three ways to build self-esteem in 90 seconds or less

A mom — almost by definition — is a woman in a time crunch : ).

So if you’re thinking that with all the logistics you’re managing, there’s no time for an add-on strategy about building your daughter’s self-esteem, don’t worry.  You can make a difference in the way your daughter sees herself with a few well-placed words, spoken from the heart.

Far from being one more task that there is no hope of completing, enhancing your children’s self-esteem can happen continuously just from your style of interacting with them. In other words, putting a little twist on the conversations you’re already having can build your children’s confidence in themselves.

Here are three powerful ways you can do it — in as little as 90 seconds:

1.  Be curious. 

Nancy is in the cumbersome process of loading kids and instruments in the car to leave for music lessons. 

“Mom,” twelve-year-old Haley announces happily, “I got a B+ on my science test!”

“Wow, that’s a big change, Haley! How’d you do that?” asks Nancy, with genuine curiosity.

“I met with Mr. Riley during lunch last week and he told me some ways to study.  I made flashcards while I read the chapter and then practiced with them fifteen minutes every day.  The test was easy!”  Haley and her brother buckle their seat belts, and Nancy climbs in and starts the car.

“You really took control of that situation! You asked Mr. Riley for help and then taught yourself the chapter and practiced it.  That’s awesome, Haley!”

Nancy didn’t say, “That’s good, sweetie.” She didn’t say, “What can you do to get an “A” next time?” She didn’t say, “That’s what happens when you study!”  Instead, she gave Haley an opportunity to say aloud the specific actions she had taken on her own to earn a B+ — and then she reflected those back.  Haley now sees herself as just a little more effective and capable.  She feels empowered, seen, appreciated.

2.  Validate.

Ann is jarred from the work on her desk when her daughter Rachel, age eight, stomps into the house after school and drops her books loudly on the table. Though it’s against the rules, Rachel heads straight for the television.

Heyyyyyyy, Rachel,” Ann says softly, as she walks over to the sofa where her daughter is angrily crouched.  “What’s up?”

“Nothing!” Rachel says, angrily.

“It’s not nothing,” Ann answers gently.  “Tell me — “

“Some kids were talking during math, so Ms. Stafford gave the whole class an extra twenty-five problems to do tonight! It’s mean! I wasn’t even talking!”

“It seems very unfair to punish the whole class,” Ann says quietly.

“It’s not fair! I am soooo mad!” Rachel is sitting up now, facing her mom.

“I think I would be, too, Rachel.  That’s a lot of extra work.”

“I know, Mom.  What am I going to do???” Rachel’s anger has subsided.

“Well… why don’t we go fix a snack and try to figure that out?”

Again, the key lies as much in what Ann doesn’t do as in what she does.  She does not call out a correction about Rachel’s noisy entrance.  She doesn’t address the forbidden television viewing; the rules are reinforced by her mere presence.  She does not defend the teacher, and she doesn’t demand that Rachel settle down! 

Instead, she simply validates Rachel’s feelings.  Even though she is undoubtedly still upset with her teacher, Rachel now feels understood and accepted by her mom. That translates into the belief that “My feelings are understandable and I am acceptable.”  And that is the foundation of self-esteem.

3. Understand her.

Elizabeth, age 14, quietly says one night at dinner, “I finally know what I want to do as a career.”

Paula, her mom, is all ears.  “Tell us!” she says, smiling.

“I’m going to work with people who have ebola,” says Elizabeth, seriously.

Paula swallows hard. Her mind swirls in scenarios that all have bad endings. She is tempted to say whatever she can to shut this idea down. 

But she resists.  Instead, she says, “That’s an amazing idea, Elizabeth. Tell me what has gotten you interested in ebola.”

“These people need help, Mom, and most everyone is afraid to even be around them.  I might be afraid, but I think I can do it!”

“That takes tremendous courage, Elizabeth,” her mom says with sincerity. “How do you think you might want to help?”

This conversation, like the other two, could have gone a very different way.  But Paula’s genuine responses leave Elizabeth feeling understood and respected.  She tucks away in that growing database of “self,” the seed of a belief that “I am courageous.” Nothing has to be decided today. There is plenty of time in the future for her to consider and weigh many career choices.

A virtuous circle. Your words can transform the way your daughter sees herself. As her self-esteem grows, you’ll find yourself noticing that she becomes more independent and needs fewer corrections and reminders.  Not only does that save energy and open up more time, it also quietly builds the trust and bond between you. It’s a virtuous circle: your affirming responses increase her belief in herself.  This, in turn, empowers her to become more independent. That builds your trust, you respond with genuine recognition and appreciation — and around and around it beautifully goes.