Switch on your TV or radio, or scroll through your social media feed, and you’ll increasingly come across news stories, articles, or posts about the rise in prevalence of mental health issues among students.

Whether it be the result of social pressures, academic demands, fear or failure, or uncertainty about the future, low self-esteem (and the accompanying anxiety) can be debilitating.

Supporting a child with anxiety can be daunting, but there are many ways in which you can promote your child’s mental well-being. As a parent, here are some of my tried and tested tips for fostering self-belief in your child.

Encourage a growth mindset

Help your child to develop effective learning strategies. Instead of focusing on an outcome (e.g. praising good results) or purely on effort (e.g. you tried so hard…) encourage your child to develop a growth mindset.

Focus on the learning process and encourage your child to view challenges in a positive light. If your child is disappointed with an exam result, for example, ask questions such as:

  • What can we learn from this experience?
  • Is there anything we could have done differently?
  • What next steps should we take?
  • Is extra support in this area required?

A growth mindset recognises failure as a fundamental part of any learning experience. It will enable your child to develop greater resilience and to ‘bounce back’ more quickly after setbacks.

Persistence, increased effort, and a willingness to try different strategies will lead to greater academic performance, as well as improved mental health.

A red arrow points down to represent a fixed mindset. A green arrow points up to represent a growth mindset.

Let your child make mistakes 

As a parent, it’s natural to want to support and protect your child. However, it’s equally important to give your child the opportunity to reflect on and learn from their own mistakes.

It’s all too easy to take over and try to fix potential problems − but by acting in this way, you’re actually doing your child a disservice. They need the opportunity to develop their coping strategies and resilience.

By all means provide your child with guidance and reassurance but encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and to find their own solutions.

Listen to and value what they have to say

If your child is feeling stressed or upset, be open and available to talk. Listen to what they have to say and try to be accepting of their feelings.

Rather than telling them that “everything will be alright” − which may inadvertently come across as dismissive − repeat their concerns and explain that it’s natural for them to sometimes feel this way. Be careful, however, not to empower their anxieties.

Be empathetic and encourage them to face their fears. Just talking through different scenarios together and coming up with different outcomes can help your child to manage their anxiety. For example, if they are worried about an upcoming class test, discuss the steps they can take to alleviate their worries, such as making a revision timetable or asking their teacher for extra support.

Dad and daughter sitting on a couch chatting.

Establish a self-care routine

It’s a well-established fact that the benefits of a self-care routine are crucial to both physical and mental well-being. Encourage your child to establish a routine which may include:

    • Eating healthily and staying hydrated

    • Getting a good night’s sleep

    • Regular physical activity

    • Spending time outdoors

    • Socialising with friends or family

    • Doing something they enjoy e.g. watching a movie, listening to a podcast

    • Meditation

    • Setting goals and priorities

Of course, this is easier said than done − but even implementing one or two self-care steps will be beneficial.

Model healthy ways of dealing with anxiety

Think carefully about the type of behaviour you’re modelling for your child. A parent who is constantly stressed and fearful will inadvertently transmit such negative behaviours.

Try to implement positive thinking and practical strategies to help manage your stress. If your car won’t start on a Monday morning, rather than ranting and raving, step back from the situation, take a breath, and call your local garage. If your child sees you calmly working through a problem and not letting stress take over, they will mimic this behaviour in their own life. Be more aware of the language you use around your child.

Do you find yourself saying “I can’t cope with…” or “I’m not very good at…”? If so, try to include more positive self-talk.

A stressed and anxious mother sitting on her sofa.

Create a safe home environment 

Having an area of the home to which your child can safely retreat at the end of the school day is important for their mental well-being, allowing them the space to recharge and de-stress. However, providing a calm and relaxed home environment where your child feels confident talking through their worries is equally, if not more, important.

It’s common for children to experience periods of low self-esteem and it can be difficult for you as a parent to know how best to support them.

There’s a fine balance between providing emotional support and allowing them the opportunity to make their own choices.

If you’re concerned that your child’s anxiety or low self-esteem is impacting their day-to-day life, then perhaps it’s worth reaching out to their school or your GP.

Wendy Wood

Wendy is a retired teacher, tutor, and mother of two. Her teaching career spanned 30 years in a variety of educational settings.