A child's self-esteem is one of the most valuable aspects of their social development, and a crucial part of fatherhood. It helps them build confidence as they grow older, and allows them to work through life's difficulties easier.
That being said, however, I also recognize that there's a very fine line between creating healthy levels of self-esteem in my daughter and turning her into a spoiled little princess (which, despite my fatherly doting, isn't a goal).
Here are some guidelines to help build true self-esteem without creating a monster.
Where many fathers go wrong in terms of building self-esteem is that they think their child needs to feel like everything they do is perfect, and shower their child with praise like confetti at a ticker-tape parade.
That creates a couple of problems. First, while they're young, children aren't stupid. If you keep praising them for everything – especially if their achievements were less than stellar – your children will realize that you're full of it, and start tuning you out.
Over-the-top compliments also builds the mindset that your child can't do anything wrong – even when they do – which is exactly the kind of attitude that can turn them from sweet innocents into spoiled brats.
Giving compliments to your children is important, but they need to be credible.
It's OK to Fail
You also need to avoid the mindset that you should completely insulate your child from loss and failure. A big part of self-esteem is having the confidence to recover after failures. Almost by definition, that means kids need to face failure from time to time.
Make sure your children are aiming for appropriate goals, and then support them along the way. If they make mistakes, make sure they know that it's OK.
When children make a mistake, focus on correcting the errors. General criticism can leave kids feeling bad about their error, and helpless about what to do.
Instead, show them how they can work to correct the error and move forward. While you're at it, talk to them about some of the mistakes you've made, and how you've worked to overcome them. That conversation can reinforce the idea that, while they aren't perfect, neither is Dad or anyone else.
Identify Their Strengths
You can also help by identifying your children's strengths, or what the Center for Parenting Education calls their "Islands of Competency." This can be any area where children have shown a particular skill or interest, or a moment of success they have seen in the past.
When children are faced with a challenge, reminding them of their past achievements in other situations can help them approach their latest endeavor with confidence.
As part of the discussion, you also need to be prepared to look inward, and make sure you're being a good role model for your children. It sounds cheesy, but just as your child is a special individual, who is worthy of love and affection, so are you.
Don't forget that aspect of it.
Feel good about yourself, and that will help set the bar in promoting self-esteem in your children every day.