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Five Tips for Boosting Your Kids' Self-Esteem


In elementary school, Emily-Anne Rigal got bullied so badly she decided to switch schools. But escaping one negative environment just led Rigal to create another, and she turned the teasing onto her new classmates. “It wasn’t until I surrounded myself with positive friends and started to feel good about myself that I realized I wanted to help stop bullying,” she explains. So in 2010, at age 16, Rigal launched WeStopHate.org, a nonprofit dedicated to raising teens’ self-esteem through YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms.

After watching countless video replies to her anti-bullying call to action, Rigal, now 20, uncovered a universal message: The one thing that was holding teens and tweens back from loving themselves was their faults. “A lot of times we’re told we’re not good enough because of our flaws—whether related to weight, sexuality or anything else,” she says. To prove that—imperfections and all—we are good enough, Rigal cowrote Flawd: How to Stop Hating on Yourself, Others and the Things That Make You Who You Are with Jeanne Demers. “We believe that hurt people are the ones who hurt other people,” she says. “So we invite everybody to the table—the bully, the bullied and the bystander—because we can all benefit from having higher self-esteem.”

The book features tips and activities for boosting self-confidence and embracing every aspect of yourself. (Plus it's filled with tons of inspiring quotes from teens about self-acceptance.) To help spread the love, we spoke with the two activists who wrote this self-help guide, and asked for the biggest takeaways moms can share with their kids:

1. Have a compassionate voice. A positive mantra goes a long way. “Teens should repeat to themselves, ‘I love you just the way you are. You are good enough,’” says Demers. Remind your sons and daughters that it’s acceptable to have weaknesses: Those weaknesses make them who they are. Also, encourage children to talk to themselves the same way they'd talk to a good friend who’s feeling down. They wouldn’t bash a pal for making a little mistake, so they shouldn’t do that to themselves.

2. Make other people smile. “After being bullied, I tried to make myself feel good by putting others down, but that definitely didn’t work,” says Rigal. “Compliment others and you’ll feel good too.” Tell your kids to be kind to their classmates so they can experience that increase in positive energy.

3. Don’t take life too seriously. Of course it’s hard to convey this to a kid in middle school or high school, but treating life playfully can promote happiness. “Bringing a sense of lightness to a situation makes all the difference,” says Demers. “Laugh, breathe and let it go.” Rigal also suggests telling teens to ask “What if?” more often to relax the mood, tone down the scariness of a situation, and think about possible positive outcomes. That might mean saying, “What if we could increase world peace by simply smiling at strangers on the street?” or “What if I stopped doubting my opinions and expressed them more confidently?”

4. Keep in mind that this will pass. Even when something feels tragic, it helps to be reminded that it will get better. Let your kids vent about a fight with a friend or how they didn’t make the soccer team, but then remind them of the obstacles they’ve already overcome and how new, exciting opportunities are bound to pop up again.

5. Be a confident role model. You can’t lift your children's self-esteem if you’re lacking in self-love. You need to follow these strategies and show compassion for yourself in order for your kids to follow suit.