David Coleman explores ways in which to build self esteem in children - a crucial parental responsibility
When we come to valuing our own self-worth, or self-esteem, we often use the judgements others make of us as a yardstick. So if, for example, adults consistently label a child as “bold” or as a “messer” it is quite likely that the child will come to judge themselves as inherently bold or a messer too. It is these negative self-judgements, born of the judgements of others, which we come to recognise as poor or low self esteem.
It is interesting to note too that when there is a high degree of discord or conflict within a family it is usually associated with lower self esteem amongst the children. In contrast, self esteem is increased amongst children growing up in expressive, cohesive families. Research tells us that having high self esteem is related to emotional maturity, stability, realism and a high frustration tolerance amongst children. Low self esteem is related to dependence, conformity and susceptibility to peer pressure. So it is worthwhile thinking about how you can help to raise your child’s self esteem. For ease I am going to refer to your child as “she”.
The first step is to be empathetic in many different and varied situations. Empathy means recognising how she feels and labelling that feeling for her. Receiving empathy from you teaches her how to recognise her own feelings and this is central to improving self esteem.
You also need to help her to identify her strengths and abilities. Focus on both her external capabilities and internal personal strengths. Once you have noted the strengths, remind her how proud or pleased she must feel, herself, of those strengths. While it is great for children to know that we value their strengths, increased self esteem comes from them having positive self-evaluations of their own abilities. Spend lots of time with her and give her as much undivided attention as you can. This will re-iterate for her in a practical way that she is important because she warrants your notice. Also it will remind her that you like to spend time with her because she is an inherently good person who deserves to have your company.
Children with low self esteem need lots of opportunities to contribute and to feel valuable. Those opportunities might be found with household tasks, or with her teacher’s help, in the classroom. Feeling useful and needed is a very powerful way to feel good about oneself. Obviously in those contributions your daughter may not always succeed or get things right. It is important, therefore, for you to treat any mistakes as learning opportunities rather than reasons to punish. So always focus on the effort that was put in rather than the outcome that was or wasn’t achieved.
Finally I would suggest that you give your child as many opportunities as possible to make choices and solve problems. This increases her sense of control and responsibility in the world and will improve both her self esteem and also her confidence that she can be in charge