Building Self-Worth in Children

Building Self-Worth in Children

It’s important for parents, caregivers, and educators to understand the impact of feedback on a child’s self-esteem. There are several types of feedback, including positive or negative, outcome-focused or process-focused. The kind of feedback you use can impact how your child sees themselves.

For example, feedback focussed on an end result, such as “well done on winning”,  can teach children to measure themselves by performance alone. This has the potential to lead to a sense of helplessness when children inevitably encounter setbacks, as the style of praise would have taught them that positive reactions only stem from positive outcomes.  Instead, what might be more helpful would be to encourage children to focus on the process, such as their approach or effort. Focusing on the process encourages children to look at what can be changed to improve an outcome rather than accept the outcome as evidence of inability. By refocusing our feedback, we are encouraging children to review their expectations, to try again, and to improve their performance.

Some examples of process praise are:

  • “Great job on the test. I saw how you studied every evening! You have worked really hard”.
  • “I loved how you listened to your brother and worked out a solution with him.”
  • “I liked how you tried different ways of tying your shoelaces until you found a way that worked.”

According to research conducted by Melissa Kamins and Carol Dweck at Columbia University, children who receive feedback aimed at personal traits when encountering a setback tend to interpret their failure as a measure of their ability. For example, if the child is told that they win races because they are a fast runner. When they lose a race, they tend to think they can’t run fast and give up. This could lead to a negative mood and the belief that their reason for failure is enduring.

However, focussing on feedback that includes the process encourages persistence. For example, ‘you put in a lot of practice to run that fast’. This feedback encourages the child to focus on why they run fast and, if they encounter a setback, to focus on improving the process. Their focus is on their behaviour rather than themselves. This then helps children build a sense of confidence in their abilities.

The feedback we give our children can impact how they perceive themselves. By focusing on the process, we can help children develop positive and constructive responses to setbacks. By providing constructive and positive feedback, we can help children develop a growth mindset and improve their self-worth.

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