Discipline Strategies that Promote Healthy Self-Esteem

How to discipline your child without crushing his self-esteem.
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Disciplining a child for making a poor choice doesn't mean you have to make him feel bad about himself. In fact, discipline that shames children can be quite destructive.

Healthy discipline can help your child feel bad about what he did, but it shouldn't make him feel bad for who he is. A child who feels good about himself--despite the mistake he made--will be motivated to make a better choice in the future.

Keep Your Expectations Appropriate

A clear understanding of child development is essential to raising a child with healthy self-esteem. If your expectations of your child are too high, you’ll experience a lot of frustration--and so will your child--when he’s not able to meet those expectations.

Expectations that are too low can be damaging as well. If you expect too little from your child you may stunt his development.

Recognize your child’s need for independence throughout each developmental stages. Identify the social, physical, emotional, and intellectual milestones your child is reaching. Then, you can ensure your rules and consequences are effective, age-appropriate discipline strategies.

Avoid Using Labels

It may be tempting to label your child by saying something like, “She’s my little musician,” or “He’s my math star.” Unfortunately, some parents use more negative labels, like, “She’s a klutz,” or “He’s my hyper one.” Labels do more harm than good--even when they're positive.

Kids know when they’re parents have labeled them in one way or another. Often, they feel like they need to live up to those standards.

A child who has been labeled as a “little scientist,” may not pursue his interest in music because he thinks he’s only supposed to be passionate about science-related activities.

When kids aren’t free to explore lots of interests, activities, and pursuits, it can damage their self-worth.

Separate the Behavior from the Child

Saying things like, “You’re a bad boy!” or “You’re a naughty girl!” changes the way children perceive themselves. And if they begin to view themselves as bad, they’re more likely to misbehave.

Separate the behavior from your child. Rather than saying, "You're naughty," say, "That was a bad choice." Remind your child that he can still be a good kid who made a poor choice.

Praise Your Child’s Efforts

Sometimes parents only praise perfection. But if you only say things like, “Great job scoring two goals today,” or “Excellent job getting all your spelling words right,” your child may think he has to excel to to be worthy of kind words.

Praise your child’s efforts by saying things like, “I noticed you didn’t give up during the game today and it paid off, “ or “I like the way you studied so hard for your spelling test.” Also, remember to praise pro-social behavior by saying things like, “Great job sharing with your friend.”

Make Discipline About Learning Not Punishing

Trying to make a child feel bad isn’t likely to motivate him to do better. But, giving a logical consequence in a respectful manner can help him learn skills that will prevent him from repeating his mistake.

Make it clear that there will be chances to do better in the future. Preserving his self-esteem will give him the confidence that he can try harder and do better next time.

This content is provided in partnership with National 4-H Council. 4-H experiences help GROW confident, caring and capable kids. Learn more by visiting their website

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