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B for Brilliance

How to help a child with low self-esteem see that they are brilliant

Parents come to me asking how to build their child’s self-esteem and confidence. They’ve read all the web pages on child anxiety and low self-esteem. They’ve tried child self-esteem activities. All to no effect.

How can you improve your child’s self esteem when it’s one of those words that doesn’t mean anything to children. Children often switch off if they don’t understand a word or get bogged down trying to figure out what it means.  So I say seeing our own brilliance instead of self-esteem or self confidence. Let’s be brilliant! 

What do I mean by being brilliant? I guess I mean seeing our brilliance and helping our kids see that, seeing their brilliance, seeing that they are brilliant. Whatever they do, that their brilliance isn't related to what they do. This is at the heart of something that is a trend taking off in schools. It's this idea of the growth mind-set, that we encourage kids to grow. And we encourage them, to sum it up in one word, and that's ‘yet’.  

So if a child says ‘I can't do something’, or any of us says we can't do something, we add the word ‘yet’: ‘you can't do that yet’. And it opens up the door for us to learn something new, learn a new skill. But our skills, what we do, isn't at the heart of what we are and the heart of what our brilliance is. 

What's the best way for me to help you see this? Go back in your memory to seeing your child for the first time. And you may feel a host of different emotions. And so it might have been that instant flood of love and compassion and the desire to protect your child. And might have been followed very quickly by being concerned about the future and the world that they're going to grow up in. And especially at the moment. I saw somebody asking something last week on social media, should we bring children into the world in these times of COVID-19? And I thought, well, it's too late. I would say yes, you know what, this will pass. 

So what other emotions could there be? That feeling of love and compassion and the desire to protect, maybe the concern about what to do and then that trepidation about all the new things that you've got to learn. So especially if this was your first child – and the most common things that mums share with me is that there's that deep path of love that they found into with their heart, there was a connection like never before. There was perfection. There was obviously relief that it's over, you know the pain of childbirth, relief that it's over. It's a whole load of different emotions. 

But there's that brilliance, you know, seeing the perfection and seeing the perfection in your child and your new-born baby. And that unconditional love and that's what brilliance is all about. So that baby hasn't done anything, and yet, it is brilliant. He or she is brilliant. They haven't done anything yet. So growth mind-set is about doing stuff – great, but at the heart, we just want to be – we love our kids just because of who they are, not what they DO. 

And that's what we want them to see for themselves. That’s what we want, our kids to appreciate how brilliant they are. And as kids get older, they get wise to the fact that mum and dad are a bit biased and they don't believe everything that you say.  So you tell them that they are brilliant, but then they mess up on a spelling test or, you know, something like that. And their little hearts are broken. You know, my little heart was broken. Lots of times when I was a kid, it's still broken at 53 and still gets broken. By the mistakes that we make and we lose touch with our brilliance, we forget our brilliance. And we don't believe when other people tell us that we're brilliant. We don't believe that. So how do you make your children see that for themselves? 

Well, I'm not a parenting expert. Okay. And I know how to help you explain to kids how their thoughts and feelings work and how brilliant they are. But the exact way that you do that with your child, because every child is different, and every parent is different - it's down to you. But I'll give you something to go on. And that's the theme of questioning.

So, a question.  If you see it written down in a headline and it's got a hook on it. The question mark is a hook because the hook draws the answer out of the reader. So it helps you get to your answer. And that is the way for anybody to see something new. So it's one of the ways, it's probably the fastest way for somebody to do something. So instead of saying, ‘You are brilliant’, which just kind of bounces off us, you want to turn it into a question. 

And the question is – you need to frame the question to the answer that you want. So you want that child to answer in the affirmative and get the child to see something for themselves. And the way to do that is through questions. So, you know, let me think of an example. Okay, so you didn't quite achieve your goal this time. Look, what could you do differently next time? Can you do differently next time? You know that I think you're brilliant whatever you do, don't you? That might take you a little bit, though it might come to you instantaneously. 

Here's the thing, okay. I want to talk about YOUR  brilliance for a moment. That feeling of unconditional love and the brilliance that you see in your child. Your parents saw exactly the same thing in you. You're brilliant, too. I got this feeling that there'll be a little voice in your head saying, ‘You don't know me Simon. You don't know what I've done. You don't know how I've messed up’. We all have that negative voice in our head. Here's the thing. It's not the truth. It's lies. That little voice in your head is a liar. What do we do with lies? We ignore them. That’s what this is all about.


Helping children see that they are brilliant is a brilliant way to build their self-esteem so that they’re more outgoing and confident and open to trying new things. It also builds their self-confidence so they see that they’re comfortable in their own skin. That’s how to build self-esteem rather than wondering why your child is suffering from low self-esteem!

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