How to Promote Self-Improvement in Your Kids

Show your children how to become the best versions of themselves

Kids who become invested in self-improvement at a young age will likely experience many advantages in life. But, it can be a little tricky to figure out exactly how to go about teaching kids about self-improvement. Fortunately, these strategies can help you raise confident children who are invested in becoming the best version of themselves.

Balance Self-Acceptance With Self-Improvement

It’s important to teach your child that she can love herself the way she is while also striving to become better. You don’t want her to think she can’t be happy with herself until she loses 10 pounds or until she makes the all-star team.

Help your child identify her strengths. Ask her what she likes about herself. Make sure she identifies qualities that reflect her personality, not just her outward appearance. While it’s healthy for a child to think she’s pretty, children’s view of themselves should extend beyond their looks.

It’s equally important to talk about the areas where she’d like to improve. Whether she wants to become a better basketball player or she says she’d like to be friendlier to kids who get bullied, identify concrete steps she could take to work on those areas.

You may need to help your child develop some self-awareness. If she insists she’s the smartest kid on the whole planet, gently remind her that she has room for improvement.

Or, if she says she’s a terrible singer, ask her what she could do about that (like take voice lessons). Then, talk about whether it’s something she wants to improve upon or if it’s not really a priority.

Hold regular conversations about the fact that everyone has weaknesses and it’s important to prioritize the ones that you want to work on while also accepting that you can’t excel in everything.

Praise Things Within Your Child’s Control

You might think you’re building your child up by saying, “You’re such a handsome boy!” But praising him for things that are beyond his control isn’t helpful.

Instead, praise him for the choices he makes by saying things like, “Great job brushing your teeth right after breakfast. You’re going to have such clean, shiny teeth!” Or, “I really like that you chose to comb your hair today before I even reminded you to do it.”

It’s also important to avoid emphasizing the outcome. If you say things like, “I’m so proud of you for getting a 100 on your spelling test,” your child will think his score matters more than anything else. That can lead to problems down the road (for example, your child may think cheating is OK as long as he gets a good score).

Instead, focus on his effort and use praise that builds character by saying, “It looks like all that studying you did really paid off. Great job studying hard for your test.”

Praising your child’s choices will help him stay focused on the things he can control in life—such as his effort and his attitude.

Set Goals Together

It’s healthy for kids to constantly work toward new goals. Goals can include anything from, “I want to learn how to swim,” to, “I want to make two new friends at school.”

Help your child identify healthy goals for herself. Goals should be challenging but achievable. If your child sets the bar too high she might set herself up for failure. But, if her goals are too easy, she won’t actually be improving herself.

You may need to offer some guidance to help her establish realistic goals. If she has a long-term goal, like saving enough money to buy a car, help her establish short-term objectives. An objective might be “saving $100 a month” or “putting half of my babysitting money into a savings account every week.”

Identify how your child can keep track of her goals. A chart, app, or calendar that helps her note her progress could help her stay motivated.

Debrief After Events

Regardless of whether your child succeeds, the way he processes the event determines how much he learns. Talk to your child about his experiences and you’ll turn everyday events, from his performance in school to an interaction with a friend on the playground, into life lessons.

If he scores four points in the basketball game, talk about the game together. Ask him what he thought he did well and what he wants to keep working on. He may be able to celebrate his success while also identifying things he can improve upon.

Don’t reserve these conversations for sports or academics only. Debrief after social events too.

Ask questions like, “What did you do well at the birthday party today?” Your child might say, “I gave the birthday girl a big hug.” Then, ask, “Is there anything you could do better next time?” She might identify something like, “I could have sat with the kid who was eating cake all by herself.”

Look for teachable moments and hold conversations with your child. There may be times when you need to point out areas where she could improve and other times, she may be able to identify things she wants to do better on her own.

Encourage Problem-Solving

It can be tempting to fix your child’s problems for him. But micromanaging his activities and rescuing him at the first signs of struggle does him a disservice.

Whether he says his science homework is too hard or he expresses concern that he’s not going to be able to get his chores done on time, ask, “What can you choose to do about that?”

Show him that he has choices in how he responds to the problem. Talk about the many different ways to solve a single problem.

Children with good problem-solving skills feel empowered to tackle issues head-on. And each problem your child encounters is an opportunity for him to improve himself.

Teach Healthy Self-Talk

It’s important for children to learn how to speak to themselves with compassion. After all, a child who calls himself stupid when he makes a mistake won’t work on improving himself.

When your child says things that are exaggeratedly negative, such as, “I’ll never be a good trumpet player,” help him see that his thoughts aren’t necessarily true. Ask a question like, “What’s another way to look at the situation?” With a little help from you, he might be able to remind himself that with practice, he can improve.

The key is to avoid saying what you want him to think. If you reassure him, “Oh no honey, you’ll be a great trumpet player someday,” he won’t learn to change his thinking.

So, while it’s healthy to provide support and reassurance, your overall goal should be to help your child learn how to become a cheerleader for himself.

Coach Your Child

There will be times when your child may need lessons in humility and other times when she could use a little brushing up on her manners. Each mistake she makes or problem she encounters is an opportunity for you to coach her.

Coaching may include anything from saying, “Please try that again” to “I notice you’re having some difficulty getting ready for school on time. What do you think you can do to fix that?”

Avoid the temptation to rescue your child or prevent your child from making mistakes. Instead, turn frustrating incidents and failed experiences into opportunities for self-growth.

Offer Incentives for Motivation

There will be times when your child just isn’t motivated to change. In those cases, a few extra incentives may be just what your child needs to do better.

If your child isn’t motivated to do his chores or he could care less about his homework, make his privileges contingent on getting his work done. Let him play video games after his homework is complete. Or, play a board game together as a family as soon as his chores are done.

You don’t need to continue to offer your child incentives for everything he does forever, however. Once he develops better habits, you can reduce the frequency of the rewards you're using.

Empower Your Child

Self-improvement doesn’t have to be about being the smartest, best looking, or most athletic person simply for vanity’s sake. Instead, your child can learn to improve himself so he can make a difference in the world.

It’s important for kids to know that their goals can be bigger themselves. Knowing that they can put their skills, talents, and hard work to good use gives them a sense of meaning and purpose.

If your child’s goal is to get an A in science, talk to him about how he could use his science skills to make a difference in the world by inventing a product that might help people or doing something that could help the environment.

Show your child that she can make a difference in someone’s life every day by being kind, generous and helpful. Get her involved in community service projects or work together to perform acts of kindness.

Whether she makes cards to send to people in nursing homes or she participates in fundraisers for charity, empower her to find ways to make a difference.

A Word From Verywell

Stay involved in your child’s quest for self-improvement. You’ll need to provide plenty of guidance along the way.

Make sure your child’s goals are healthy. If your child begins taking a drastic diet or exercise measures, step-in and address the situation. Or, if he begins studying so hard that he isn’t getting enough sleep, intervene and help him see how his habits are doing more harm than good.

Be a good role model for your child as well. Talk about ways you’re actively working on self-improvement and you’ll inspire your child to do the same.

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Article Sources

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  • Kim H. The Relationship between Social support, Self-esteem and Stress in Elementary School Children. Journal Of The Korean Society Of Maternal And Child Health. 2012;16(1):122-132. DOI: 10.1002/pits.20120.