Kids who become invested in self-improvement at a young age will likely experience many advantages in life. But it can be a little tricky to figure out exactly how to go about teaching kids about self-improvement. Fortunately, these strategies can help you raise confident children who are invested in becoming the best version of themselves.
Balance Self-Acceptance with Self-Improvement
It’s important to teach your children that they can love themselves the way they are while also striving to become better. You don’t want them to think they can’t be happy with themselves until they lose 10 pounds or until they make the all-star team.
Help Your Child Identify Their Strengths
Ask them what they like about themselves. Make sure they identify qualities that reflect their personality, not just their outward appearance. While it’s healthy for a child to think they’re pretty, children’s views of themselves should extend beyond their looks.
Identify Areas Where They’d Like to Improve
Whether they want to become a better basketball player or they’d like to be friendlier to kids who get bullied, identify concrete steps they can take to work on those areas.
You might need to help your child develop some self-awareness. For example, if they insist they’re the smartest kid on the whole planet, gently remind them that there’s always room for improvement. Or, if they say they’re a terrible singer, ask what they can do (like taking voice lessons) to improve. Then, talk about whether it’s something they want to improve upon or if it’s not really a priority.
Hold regular conversations about the fact that everyone has weaknesses and it’s important to prioritize the ones that you want to work on while also accepting that you can’t excel in everything.
Praise Things Within Your Child’s Control
You might think you’re building your child up by saying, “You’re so handsome.” But praising them for things that are beyond their control isn’t helpful.
Instead, praise them for the choices they make by saying things like, “Great job brushing your teeth right after breakfast. You’re going to have such clean, shiny teeth!” Or, “I really like that you chose to comb your hair today before I even reminded you to do it.”
It’s also important to avoid emphasizing the outcome. If you say things like, “I’m so proud of you for getting a 100 on your spelling test,” your child will think their score matters more than anything else. That can lead to problems down the road (for example, your child may think cheating is OK as long as he gets a good score).
Instead, focus on his effort and use praise that builds character by saying, “It looks like all that studying you did really paid off. Great job studying hard for your test.”
Praising your child’s choices will help them stay focused on the things they can control in life—such as their efforts and their attitude.
Set Goals Together
It’s healthy for kids to constantly work toward new goals. Goals can include anything from, “I want to learn how to swim,” to “I want to make two new friends at school.”
Help your child identify healthy goals that are challenging but achievable. If your child sets the bar too high, they might set themselves up for failure. On the flip side, if their goals are too easy, they won’t actually be improving themselves.
You may need to offer some guidance to help them establish realistic goals. If they have a long-term goal, like saving enough money to buy a car, help them establish short-term objectives. An objective might be “saving $100 a month” or “putting half of my babysitting money into a savings account every week.”
Identify how your child can keep track of their goals. A chart, app, or calendar that helps them note their progress could help them stay motivated.
Debrief After Events
Regardless of whether your child succeeds, the way they process the event determines how much they learn. Talk to your child about their experience and you’ll turn everyday events, from their performance in school to an interaction with a friend on the playground, into life lessons.
If they score four points in the basketball game, talk about the game together. Ask them what they did well and what they want to keep working on. The goal is to celebrate their success while also identifying things they can improve upon.
Don’t reserve these conversations for sports or academics only. Debrief after social events, too. Ask questions like, “What did you do well at the birthday party today?” Your child might say, “I gave the birthday girl a big hug.” Then ask, “Is there anything you could do better next time?” They might identify something like, “I could have sat with the kid who was eating cake all by themselves.”
Look for teachable moments and hold conversations with your child. There may be times when you need to point out areas where they could improve, and other times, they may be able to identify things they want to do better on their own.
It can be tempting to fix your child’s problems for them. But micromanaging their activities and rescuing them at the first signs of struggle is a disservice.
Whether they say their science homework is too hard, or express concern that they’re not going to be able to get their chores done on time, ask “What can you choose to do about that?”
Show them that they have choices in how they respond to the problem. Talk about the many different ways to solve a single problem. Children with good problem-solving skills feel empowered to tackle issues head-on. And each problem your child encounters is an opportunity for them to improve themselves. How to Teach Kids Problem-Solving Skills
Teach Healthy Self-Talk
It’s important for children to learn how to speak to themselves with compassion. After all, a child who calls themselves stupid when they make a mistake won’t work on improving themselves.
When your child says things that are exaggeratedly negative, such as, “I’ll never be a good trumpet player,” help them see that their thoughts aren’t necessarily true. Ask a question like, “What’s another way to look at the situation?” With a little help from you, they might be able to remind themselves that with practice, they can improve.
The key is to avoid saying what you want them to think. If you reassure them, “Oh no honey, you’ll be a great trumpet player someday,” they won’t learn to change their thinking.
While it’s healthy to provide support and reassurance, your overall goal should be to help your child learn how to become a cheerleader for themselves.
Coach Your Child
There will be times when your child may need lessons in humility and other times when they could use a little brushing up on their manners. Each mistake they make or problem they encounter is an opportunity for you to coach them.
Coaching may include anything from saying, “Please try that again” to “I notice you’re having some difficulty getting ready for school on time. What do you think you can do to fix that?”
Avoid the temptation to rescue your child or prevent your child from making mistakes. Instead, turn frustrating incidents and failed experiences into opportunities for self-growth.
Offer Incentives for Motivation
There will be times when your child just isn’t motivated to change. In those cases, a few extra incentives may be just what your child needs to do better.
If your child isn’t motivated to do their chores or couldn’t care less about homework, make their privileges contingent on getting their work done. Let them play video games after their homework is complete. Or, play a board game together as a family as soon as their chores are done.
You don’t need to continue to offer your child incentives for everything they do forever. Once they develop better habits, you can reduce the frequency of the rewards you’re using. Free and Low-Cost Reward Ideas for Kids
Empower Your Child
Self-improvement doesn’t have to be about being the smartest, best looking, or most athletic person simply for vanity’s sake. Instead, your child can learn to improve themselves so they can make a difference in the world.
It’s important for kids to know that their goals can be bigger themselves. Knowing that they can put their skills, talents, and hard work to good use gives them a sense of meaning and purpose.
If your child’s goal is to get an A in science, talk to them about how they could use their science skills to make a difference in the world by inventing a product that might help people or doing something that could help the environment.
Show your child that they can make a difference in someone’s life every day by being kind, generous, and helpful. Get her involved in community service projects or work together to perform acts of kindness. Whether they make cards to send to people in nursing homes or participates in fundraisers for charity, empower them to find ways to make a difference.
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