Self-esteem is a child’s passport to mental health and happiness throughout her life.  You can’t buy or even give it to your child – it has to come naturally from the experiences they have.

These days there’s great awareness of the importance of building self-esteem and helping to make kids ‘bully-proof’.  We probably all know many ways to do that:

– have a genuine interest in them

– give them responsibilities

– spend quality time with them

– celebrate their endeavours

– tell them what you love about them

– keep your promises

– be a good role model

– give honest praise only when it’s due

– praise them for who they are, not just how they perform…

– make them feel they are worth your time

– choose your language carefully and keep it positive.

But what about the role of failure in building self-esteem?

Having good self-esteem means understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses – being realistic about what we are capable of and what we need to work on.  It’s okay to encourage children to try hard and to improve their skills but having realistic expectations is also vital.

Some parents are afraid to let their children struggle or fail in case their self-esteem is damaged.  But surviving failure actually instils strength and improves self-esteem.  Allowing children to experience failure and consequences, and helping them through this process, is the best way to help them prepare for adulthood.  If you think about it, all successful people have at some time failed and learned from the experience.

We shouldn’t try to guard kids against things that we THINK may damage their self-esteem, like losing a game or not being the best at something.

Some parents remove children from sports if they are not successful, regardless of whether the child is enjoying herself. But failure is a normal part of everyday life and it’s only by learning to lose that we can achieve success. Many teachers try to make students feel equally talented and give prizes to every child, regardless of their actual performance.  But this can result in them feeling frustrated and angry when they don’t immediately succeed in the real working world.

Research from the American Psychological Association confirms that students are more likely to succeed when parents and teachers reassure them that trying and sometimes failing is part of how we learn.  Christine Carter, PhD, has done similar research showing that kids who face more challenges in their lives are far happier than kids who face few (or no) challenges.  She says “the thing we need to protect our kids from is not failure but a life void of failure.”

Winter Olympic Athlete, Betsy Shaw, says “One of the most rewarding parts of teaching kids for me is being able to talk about my failures. I love seeing the look on their faces when I tell them I had one World Cup season where I crashed in every single race I entered, but I didn’t stop trying.”

Physie has both competitive and performance elements, making it ideally placed to build self-esteem – girls can feel a great sense of achievement from performing for an audience, regardless of the outcome of the competition, provided their parents and teachers recognize the value of this performance.

If kids love doing something, it boosts their self-image just by doing it.  Rewards are not necessary.  All it takes is a high-five from their teacher when they come off the floor, closely followed by a hug from mum for having done their best.

The only real failure is failing to try.  In the words of J. K. Rowling (author of Harry Potter):

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”


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