5 Keys to Helping Children to Learn Self-Improvement

If we help children learn self-improvement, we give them self-esteem, confidence, and motivation to pursue their goals.
5 Keys to Helping Children to Learn Self-Improvement
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 11 October, 2022

Childhood isn’t only a stage in which children learn to speak, walk, add or read. It’s a sensitive period during which other types of life learning take place, related to personal resources to face adversity. The attitude that the child has towards themself and their vision of the world can lead them to success or failure, happiness or sadness. Therefore, it’s important to help children to learn self-improvement.

This strength is key in respectful parenting, as it promotes children’s autonomy and self-esteem. Parents who wish to promote it must avoid overprotection and be willing to let their children stumble, fall, and get up again in order to learn from the experience.

If you identify with this goal, we’ll tell you how to achieve it. Keep reading!

How to help children learn self-improvement

When you encourage your child to learn self-improvement from an early age, you contribute to the development of a strong and solid self-esteem, which will be very useful for the rest of their lives.

And the fact is that it’s only by accepting challenges and taking them on that one learns to trust oneself; flattery and praise without this practical part are empty.

That said, let’s bring you some keys to put into practice today with your little ones. Take note!

Teach them to tolerate frustration

Tolerating frustration is one of the most complicated tasks for children, as they tend to be impulsive, spontaneous, and have difficulty delaying gratification. They want what they want and they want it now, and waiting or accepting “no” for an answer is very difficult for them. For this reason, parents must support them in this task, mainly by setting clear and coherent limits.

In any learning process, the child will make mistakes, will have failed attempts, and will see that they don’t always reach their goals the first time. Knowing how to assume this reality without getting excessively frustrated, overcoming, and persevering will help them to achieve success in due time.

A teen athlete giving his teammate a pep talk.
Frustration tolerance is an extremely important skill, as it not only encourages us to improve ourselves but also prevents us from damaging our self-esteem in the face of inevitable failures.

Forget perfectionism, as mistakes are part of learning

In regard to the above, it’s important that the child develops a positive view of mistakes as part of the process. In families that encourage perfectionism, and in which failure is something to be ashamed of, children are often limited and paralyzed.

For fear of failing, being scolded, or not being “good enough,” many infants choose not to even attempt to meet challenges.

This is what Carol Dweck called the fixed mindset: The idea that a person is what they are and cannot improve. Therefore, some infants prefer not to test their intelligence or abilities for fear of failure.

In contrast, children who develop a growth mindset know that failure is a necessary step in learning, so they’re not afraid of it. It’s clear to them that effort is what will make them improve their skills.

Offer them challenging but achievable tasks

If we want to help children to learn self-improvement, we must allow them to experiment, practice, and test themselves. They should be given age-appropriate chores and responsibilities at home that they can learn and perform on a daily basis.

Simple activities such as dressing themselves, setting the table for breakfast, or watering the plants help them feel useful and competent, so they can become purposeful, self-reliant individuals.

The motto should be “don’t do for your child what they can do for themself,” as that would deprive them of the chance to prove to themself what they’re capable of.

However, choose tasks that have an appropriate level of difficulty: enough to motivate them to face the challenge, but not so complex as to impede their execution and lead them to frustration. For this, take into account your child’s age and previous knowledge and accompany them in their first attempts.

Value the process and not the result

Many families make the mistake of focusing solely on their children’s results: The quality of the drawing they’ve done, the precision of the acrobatics they’ve learned, or the grades they’ve obtained. However, as is evident, the first few times an infant tries something, they don’t have the best results.

If their effort, their interest, and the process they’ve gone through to get where they are aren’t valued, they’re likely to want to give up and throw in the towel at the first failure. This is why it’s important to get used to observing and appreciating the previous steps and not just the final goal.

When you see that your child has practiced a lot or has studied consistently, but their results aren’t what you expected, value, praise and reward that effort.

Remind them that the only competition is with themselves

Finally, to help children to excel, we must help them understand that they’re not in competition with others but with themselves. To do this, avoid comparing them with their siblings, cousins, or peers and take as a reference their own previous versions.

If yesterday they couldn’t solve a problem and today they’re been able to, this is the achievement we should celebrate and not emphasize that another child has achieved it in less time.

Also, encourage your child to appreciate and value each of their small victories and also, to remember them whenever they have doubts about their abilities to face a new challenge. If they were able to excel in the past, they can do it again in the future.

A digital drawing of a child drawing a staircase as he climbs up it.
Remind your child every day that their goals should be set on their own path and not based on the accomplishments or pace of others.

Helping children learn self-improvement is building healthy, capable adults

To a large extent, childhood is a practice ground for life skills. Within a safe environment and with parental supervision and support, young children “train” to face new challenges every day in order to achieve their goals. If this is harnessed, the result will be solid self-esteem and strong self-confidence, both today and in adulthood.

Thus, learning self-improvement from childhood is a habit that brings us closer to success, self-fulfillment, and happiness. Don’t hesitate to encourage this learning in your children from an early age. They’ll thank you when they grow up.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week35(5), 20-24.
  • Gunderson, E. A., Gripshover, S. J., Romero, C., Dweck, C. S., Goldin‐Meadow, S., & Levine, S. C. (2013). Parent praise to 1‐to 3‐year‐olds predicts children’s motivational frameworks 5 years later. Child development84(5), 1526-1541.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.