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How to Raise Kids with Good Self-Esteem

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You can help your child become a better risk manager — i.e., loser — by cultivating a proper outlook early, says Dweck. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she describes two basic worldviews. People with a "fixed" mindset regard their qualities — IQ, personality, even moral character — as unchanging, carved in stone. "A fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over," she says. People with a "growth" mindset, on the other hand, view their basic qualities as improvable through effort and experience.

Depending on the mindset they develop with our help, children have vastly different reactions to failure and losing. "Confronted by failure, fixed-mindset kids fall apart or become very defensive," Dweck says. "They'll either feel really bad about failure, or run away from it." Children who've been encouraged to have a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that they can try to do better. No, they're not happy about a failure or rejection. "But afterwards," Dweck says, "they think about what happened and what they can do to change the outcome next time."

To help your kid develop the growth mindset so that she can cope with and learn from — in short, succeed at — failure, consider these pointers from parents and parenting experts:

Praise the right things Whether your kid comes home with an A or an F on a school paper, Dweck suggests, don't focus on the grade, but instead ask about what he or she learned. "Kids who are praised for effort and strategy remain engaged by challenge," she says. And if, even after hard work, she still comes home with a D? "Praise the effort, but acknowledge that the result might not be what the child had hoped for," Dweck says. "I would say, 'You really tried, but it looks like there are still things you don't understand. Let's talk about what you can do to get help.' "

Praise is merited, too, if a child falters after taking on a significant challenge — say, enrolling in a difficult class on a subject he's passionate about, but earning low marks, says psychologist Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which gives scholarships to students from seventh grade through graduate school. "Focus not on the grade, but on his taking on this extraordinary challenge." Even if the school pressures him to get good grades, let him know you believe that in the long run accepting a challenge can be more important.

Clarify what constitutes "losing" or "failure" How do you help your child see that victory or defeat is not the only, or ultimate, measure of success? "The more parents convey to their children that they value the process the kids engage in rather than the outcome," says Dweck, "the less the children will worry about losing or failing, the more readily they'll bounce back from it, and the more they'll learn from it. A parent could say, 'For me, a success is when someone prepares well for something they care about and then gives full effort to it. You did that.' " Dweck suggests this exercise: When the family is sitting around the dinner table, parents can ask, "Who did something really hard today? Who made a mistake they can learn from today? Who struggled with something today?" Mom and Dad must participate.

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