As parents, teachers or carers we often wonder whether we are doing enough to build our children’s self-esteem.

But, what is self-esteem made up of and what things influence our self-esteem?

These are questions that we often ask and this is exactly what we’ll explore today.

What is character and what is competence?

So, let’s start by understanding what character and competence actually are. For the purpose of this discussion we’re using the following definitions:

Character:

This is who you are at your core, the traits about you that make you special and unique. Another way to think about this is “Character is who we are when we think no one is watching”.

Competence:

This is more focused on our abilities or skills or in other words, what we’re good or less good at. So, unlike character competence is not about who we are at our core it is about what we are able and unable to do.

What is most important in building self-esteem?

The science is clear that building our character contributes most to our self-esteem, not building our competence. Why then do most of our societal constructs such as schools and workplaces focus so much on competence or what we can do rather than character and who we are?

If we know that it is building our character that enhances self-esteem and we know that greater self-esteem improves our performance (and happiness) then surely we should be doing more to build an understanding and appreciation of character in children?

What do we focus on now?

If you think about the school your child is at or even the workplace you work within, what is given most prominence in terms of how you are rewarded? Is it your character and who you are at your core? Or, is it your competence and what you do?

We are pretty sure that the answer to this will be that the focus is on your competence or what you achieve. There’s nothing wrong with focussing on this, but it is our view that this needs to be balanced with a focus on your character as well if you want to build a child’s self-esteem.

How can you start to focus on character more?

There are many things you can do to start to focus more on a child’s character and therefore build their self-esteem.

The best place to start with this is just to notice what the child’s character strengths are. By noticing and commenting on a child’s character strengths you immediately give them importance. When a child is complimented on their character, they start to think it matters.  In turn, when they think character matters, they’ll start to focus on it more too and the positive cycle of character building begins. The more you talk to them about their character strengths the faster they will start to define themselves by them. This, in turn, will start to build their self-esteem.

Do watch the video above to find out more about the relationship between character and competence. We also share more tips on building self-esteem with your children. If this topic is interesting to you, also check out this episode of myHappymind Conversations. We talk all about building self-esteem in children and offer lots of practical tips on how to do this.