by Chris Hudson

How to help build your son’s self-esteem

high school teen student daydreaming

Adolescence is a crucial time in the development of a boy’s self-esteem. With rates of depression and anxiety in teenage boys continuing to climb, it is important that parents are aware of what they can do to help their sons develop healthy self-esteem.

 Make time

A vital factor in a boy developing healthy self-esteem is his sense of belonging and acceptance at home. When a boy feels accepted at home, it gives him a great springboard from which to approach other areas of his life with confidence.

Belonging is communicated in many ways. However, there is no better way to help your son feel a strong sense of belonging than spending time with him. This can be doing everyday things together, such as regularly eating a meal as a family, relaxing in front of the TV, driving in the car, or doing homework.

All of these contribute to his sense of acceptance and belonging. However, if you want to supercharge a boy’s sense of connectedness and self-worth, do something with him that he enjoys, and do it regularly.

Words matter

The words parents use around their son should be considered the fuel that feeds his self-worth.

A healthy diet consisting of affirming, respectful and encouraging words will help produce a boy with a strong and positive view of himself. However, a diet of ‘junk words’ – demeaning names, insults, constant criticism and put downs – will produce a boy who finds it hard to see his own worth.

Healthy words that are especially important for younger teen boys’ self-esteem include:

  • words that validate their feelings, particularly the negative ones
  • words that seek their opinion and invite them to contribute to conversations.

Encourage, don’t praise

Using positive words doesn’t mean resorting to meaningless praise. Always praising boys, or telling them they are special or good at something when they are not, creates just as many self-esteem issues as insults and put downs.

Boys tend to know where they stand in the pecking order. When adults try to tell boys something they intuitively know is untrue, the result is diminished self-worth, as boys will feel pitied or lied to.

My advice is to stay away from praising your son altogether. Instead, focus on encouraging him. Praise focuses on approval or comparison with others. However, encouragement focuses on affirming the feelings, efforts, character and growth of the individual. Encouragement is linked to actual observable behaviours and demonstrated character traits, and does not involve using adjectives such as “smart”, “nice” or “special”.

The easiest way to encourage your son is to affirm him when you see him display a desirable trait. Acknowledge him when he makes a good choice, puts in a real effort, improves in a certain area, displays kindness or patience, demonstrates courage or honesty, or solves a problem. You can also simply express gratitude for him being him.

Play to his strengths

Confidence is contagious. One of the best ways to help a boy develop a healthy self-concept is to focus on the areas of life where he feels good about himself or displays competence.

By consistently affirming your son’s strengths, you assist in establishing his personal belief about who he is and what he is capable of. This belief defines his self-concept, which he can’t help but take into other pursuits in life.

You won’t help a boy improve his weaknesses by diminishing his involvement in, or exposure to, his strengths. However, by leveraging off those aspects of life where he feels confident, you can help him increase his self-belief and willingness in other areas.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Chris Hudson is a youth expert, parenting coach and the editor of Understanding Teenagers. Find him at understandingteenagers.com.au. This article is about

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