Positive self-esteem is as crucial for children as a balanced diet. It’s what helps them meet the challenges of the world head on and protects them when that head gets boinked. Kids who are happy with themselves have an easier time doing their own thing, not getting dragged into negative situations, and dealing with stress. They are more optimistic and have a sense that their dreams are achievable. Kids with low self-esteem have a harder time dealing with challenges and can become depressed and find it more difficult to manage their stress. This can lead to various levels of inappropriate behavior as they get older. But, you can help your child by promoting a healthy self-esteem. Here are some tips.

Respect the power of words

More than anything, kids want to please their parents. A parent’s words have tremendous power to build up or tear down a child’s sense of who he is, what he is good at, and who he wishes to become. What doesn’t seem important to you is sometimes hugely important to a child and an off-handed comment can really sting and make him question his own sense of who he is. Praise your child for his efforts. Tell the truth, but try to find ways that highlight the positive aspects of the effort. It takes two positive comments to balance every negative comment.

Love yourself

Children imitate their parents’ behavior. If you constantly put yourself down and display a defeated view of your future, your child may eventually take on that view as her own. Show your child that you are positive and engaged in life. Take up hobbies; try new things. Model the idea that effort and attitude is even more important than results. If you show your child that you can face any difficult situation with confidence, your child will have an amazing resource to refer to when she comes up against problems.

Challenge kids’ beliefs about themselves

Self-concepts are stickier than glue. Once a child has it in his head that he is “bad” at something because he doesn’t measure up to a self-created standard, it is very hard to convince him otherwise. Help your child to have a more realistic approach to evaluating himself. False beliefs left unchecked can often become realities for some children. A child who thinks that he is a “bad student,” because he struggles with a particular subject sets himself up for failure. Encourage your child to see that situations and beliefs about things can change. Skills and abilities change. Everyone has things that come naturally to them and things that need more effort. Most of all, let your child know you are in it together.

Affection is the best medicine

Don’t underestimate the power of a good hug and a kind word to boost your child’s self-esteem. Be silly. Be spontaneous. Write her a note and hide it in her lunch. Leave one in the pocket of her clothes.

Create a safe and loving place

Kids need a sense of a security in order to grow up healthy. Peer behavior and bullying can leave lifelong scars on kids. Be sure to take these issues seriously and deal with them quickly. Show your child that you put him first and he will know it is true and take great pride and comfort in that fact.

Get involved in helping others

Compassion is a great teacher for children. Not only does helping others naturally engage children’s seemingly innate sensitivity, but it also raises their self-esteem by showing them that they have the ability to assist someone in need. That’s an important job. These situations also develop an outward and less self-centered sense of the world.

Help kids find things they love

Self-esteem flows naturally when a child masters something she loves. A hobby or passion gives a child a place to return to and a way to center her world. Help your child find something that she enjoys. Get involved with it. If she loves basketball, play with her, coach her team, take her to a high school game or watch a professional game on television.