How to Help Your Child Navigate Self-Doubt

Chrissy Khachane is an educational consultant, parenting coach and new contributor for Mommy Shorts. 

Imagine this scenario…

Your child comes home from school and you can tell there is something on her mind. You ask how her day was and get a limited response of “it was fine”. Both her tone and posture tell you otherwise, but you aren’t sure how much to push for information. You ultimately decide to leave things alone, until later that evening when you are together going over a homework assignment and she begins putting herself down because she doesn’t understand a concept. You are surprised by her comments because not only have you never heard her say anything negative about herself, but you have only ever known her to have the utmost confidence in her abilities (even when she hit a speed bump along the way).

There are few things harder for a parent than watching your child lose confidence. It can also be difficult to navigate, because self-esteem comes from different sources for children at different stages of development. Starting in kindergarten, a child’s confidence can be effected by how well they manage learning tasks in school, performance in sports, and/or their ability to make friends.

If you find yourself in a situation where your child is exhibiting low self-esteem, it is important to start with the knowledge that, as parents, we cannot ‘fix’ our child’s self-esteem. Our role as parents is to help our children develop the skills to deal with problems as they arise. Often parents have the misconception that by giving more compliments to their child or praising them for smaller accomplishments, they will put their child’s mind at ease and question themselves less. Unfortunately, rewarding your child for things that are artificial will not build genuine self-esteem. There is a difference between giving your child encouragement (telling her “nice job”) and looking at self-esteem though the framework of problem solving.

I recommend using the tips below to provide some scaffolding and support your child as they learn to navigate feelings of frustration or self-doubt.

Be A Teacher: Teach them to identify their feelings and the problem at hand

Start by teaching your child how to solve problems. When you hear your child make a negative comment about herself, immediately help her figure out what is causing the lack of self-worth. Start with a question such as, “What is making you feel ______?” Use the exact term your child uses as to not impart your interpretation on their statement. Your goal is not to get a long winded story that takes you back through a long history of their feelings, but to get an answer on what is going on now, as in what happened today to make you feel this way.

In this step, you are helping your child to identify the problem accurately. Take the problem of a child who is embarrassed because they answered a problem wrong in class. Helping your child to identify and define what embarrassment is, along with the circumstances that led them to feel this way, will help empower her in future situations.

Be A Coach: Coach your child as they learn to solve their own problems

The next step is to coach your child to utilize skills they already have by providing them an opportunity to practice tackling the problem. Take the child who is struggling to learn a new concept in math, you can begin by coaching them to utilize strategies they already know, such as addition skills they’ve mastered for learning multiplication. You can also provide encouragement by using prompts such as, “You’ve solved problems like this before. What worked well for you last time?” Or “It is okay that this feels hard right now. Remember there have been other times where something new felt hard and with practice it became easier.”

Part of being a coach is validating what your child’s feelings are. Sharing an instance where you felt similar to what your child is experiencing in that moment helps them to know the problem is something felt by others. Likewise, one of the most important things you can ask your child is, “How can I be of help?” or “What would you find helpful from me right now?” This helps your child feel a sense of control, even if their response is “there is nothing you can do” or “leave me alone.” You will know if your child really needs to talk about the problem based on their behavior and attitude. If your child is refusing to talk, but acting out behaviorally, you should challenge the behavior and set the appropriate limits.

Set Limits: Monitor your child’s behavior and set limits to build accountability and independence

Often self-esteem challenges can be supported and rectified through teaching and coaching your child, however, there are times where big emotions and feelings can be overwhelming for a child and lead to poor behavior. In these instances, it is important to establish and reinforce limits. You can say things such as, “I understand you are sad or frustrated or don’t feel good about yourself right now, but we still need to complete our homework assignment with our best effort.” Or, “I am sorry you are feeling frustration right now, but you cannot take out your anger on your sister.” The balance of responsibility and accountability are an important component to helping a child learn the skills to navigate circumstances that challenge their self-esteem.

It is difficult to encompass every situation that will arise to challenge a child’s self-esteem, however, the strategies outlined above serve as a meaningful starting point. By teaching and coaching, you are not making the problem go away, but imparting skills that will help them tackle the next challenge or frustration with greater confidence.

Ultimately, our children feel more empowered when they have the tools to solve problems that arise, rather than having the problems fixed for them.


What struggles have your kids had with self-doubt? How did you handle it?

Chrissy Khachane is a boy mom (x3) and Educational Consultant and Parenting Coach who is passionate about empowering parents with research-based information so they can make informed decisions for their family. You can learn more about her at @simplychrissyk or find articles, information and recent TV segments on her Facebook page and Twitter.