Helping to Build Up a Child’s Self-Esteem

 ADHD Weekly, November 3, 2022

Another note has come home from school: your child forgot to turn in his homework. Again. He struggles with organizing information into an assigned report. He works five times as hard for a passing grade as his schoolmates do. He talks too much, interrupting his peers, and is left on his own during recess. He comes home feeling sad and withdrawn. What can you, his parent, do?

For many children, there seems to be a direct line between ADHD (particularly its inattentiveness) and low self-esteem. While the way one parents don’t cause ADHD symptoms, parenting approach and style can directly affect a child’s self-esteem.

Parental reflective functioning” is a term for reflecting upon—including recognizing, understanding, and accommodating—your child’s experiences. For example, you can recognize the anxiety your child may feel when he makes mistakes or has a hard time doing something, and then proactively engage with him in ways to promote self-worth and confidence. This parenting style—a practiced and learned skill—is necessary to develop cognitive abilities in your child and enable emotional regulation and healthy social relationships.

On the other hand, because a child’s challenging behaviors can take a toll on a parent, practicing reflective functioning toward your own experience in the moment—recognizing when you are stressed and changing your behaviors accordingly—is also important. Doing so allows you to help lower family stress and boost your child’s self-esteem.

So how can you do this?

Helping to build up your child’s self-esteem can be a two-part process:

  1. Praise your child’s accomplishments. This includes the “little” things, as well as the larger goals.
  2. Acknowledge the challenges that make it harder for your child to reach those accomplishments.

What this process can look like in practice:

  • Consider your first words before speaking them. Frequent negative feedback can undermine your child’s self-esteem. Instead, make an effort to notice when your child is paying attention well or doing what he is supposed to be doing—as well as what skills and discipline he had to use in order to do it.
  • Organize big projects together. Help your child work through activities that are hard by breaking tasks down into small incremental components or steps. Recognize accomplishments at each step; that will build confidence, encourage the next step, and also teach the skill of breaking down tasks independently.
  • Practice social skills with your child. Children with ADHD may be rejected by their peers because of hyperactive, impulsive, or aggressive behaviors. Do role-playing with your child, through several social scenarios. Ask him or her to anticipate how someone, such as a friend, may feel if he were to do certain things or behave in a certain way. Ask your child to act that out. Then ask him or her to imagine a different way of behaving, which would not make the friend upset or annoyed. Practice the new behavior together.
  • Set aside a daily special time for you and your child. A special time, whether it’s an outing, playing games or just time spent with your child in positive interaction, can help strengthen your child’s self-esteem because he can experience his importance to you. Feeling loved and valued by a parent goes a long way in boosting a child’s positive self-image.
  • Tell your child that your love and support is unconditional. There will be days when you’re exhausted, angry, stressed, and it’s hard to feel loving. Recognize those times and grant yourself permission to breathe and reflect on your own feelings about yourself and your child. Let your child know that you will get through both the smooth and rough times together.

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Join the discussion: How do you help self your child’s self-esteem?