A child with good self esteem is a blessed child, indeed. A healthy sense of self can help a child sail through all of the bumpy parts of childhood, and adolescence. A child with good self esteem will do better in school, will be a happier child, and as she grows into a teenager, she will be better equipped to stand strong in the face of peer pressure, making her less susceptible to drug and alcohol use, early sexual experimentation, as a host of other problems. Children with healthy self esteem are also less prone to periods of anxiety and depression.
Helping your child develop healthy self esteem begins as soon as they are born, and is a gift that you can give them that will last a life time. Some children seem to be born with a solid and unshakable feeling of self esteem, while other children seem to fight tooth and nail against all efforts towards building their self esteem. This can be especially frustrating, and sad to see, if you are the parent of such a child. With children who resist all self esteem building attempts, a parents needs to be especially vigilant, and persistent.
I have had both types of kids. I have one child who had such a healthy sense of self esteem that he had to be taught that others had valid opinions, too, and that he needed to temper his self esteem a bit in order to be open to the experiences and feeling of other people. Intelligent beyond words, he could have been said to be “full of himself” during his early teen years. He’s grown out of that, but he will always have a strong, almost innate, feeling of self esteem.
My youngest daughter was the exact opposite. She has a learning disability, and it took her longer to learn to read, and she had problems with math. She was also surrounded by peers and siblings to whom things came easily, including a twin brother. Helping her develop self esteem has been a long, and difficult process. When I would spend time with her alone, trying to help her with her reading at the age of six, she repeatedly told me she was “too stupid” to learn, and would never learn.
This broke my heart, as she was far from stupid. Try as we all might, she simply could not be convinced that she was not inferior in some way or another. As a teen, she had issues with depression, and engaged in risky behaviors that her brothers and sisters did not. Finally, at 20 year old, she has a pretty good self esteem, but she is remains very sensitive and rather fragile. Thankfully, she knows when she is being too hard on herself now, and can correct her thinking quickly. I believe that I was a lot like her as a child. I fought all attempts that my parents employed to build my self esteem.
Developing your child’s self esteem is a constant process, and your child will have peaks and valley in their self esteem as the grow to adulthood. As a parent, you can make a huge difference in your child’s self esteem, but you need to know how to go about it correctly. Here are a few tips that I have gathered over the years. Keep in mind that every child is different, so what works with one child may not work with another, and tactics may need to be tweaked as your child gets older.
Use A Lot Of Honest Praise
Praise is excellent for developing a child’s self esteem, but it needs to be honest. If your child does something well, be sure to let him, or her, know. At the same time, if your child tries something and it needs improvement, and your child knows it, praise the effort, and say something like, “You worked really hard on that. Next time, when you try it again, you will do better, and we can work on it together.” Try to use praise that tells your child what you see, rather than repetitive, catch all phrases. Instead of saying, “Wow, that is super!” every time your child shows you something he did, try saying something that mirror back to your child what he really did, such as, “You just built a tower with 6 blocks. Yesterday, you built a tower with 4 blocks, so you used two more blocks today. You must have worked very hard on that!” Combine your praise with lots and lots of hugs, and kisses, and frequent, spontaneous expressions of love, as a child who feels truly loved with have an easier time developing self esteem.
Make You Actions Match Your Words
Perhaps it is time for your child to learn to dress himself or to begin to make his bed. Your child successfully dresses himself, but he put his pants or shirt on backwards. Let it be and let your child know what a good job he did. If your child makes his own bed, and it is less than perfect fight that urge to go along behind him and redo it to your exacting specifications. If you tell your child that he did a great job on the bed, then go and redo it, your child will begin to see you as less than honest, and will begin to feel that his, or her, efforts are not up to snuff, no matter what you say.
This one was hard for me. Not so much with the clothing, but the bed thing took everything that I had to prevent me from redoing the job myself, or just taking over the job. My nasty perfectionism reared it’s ugly head every time, and I had to smack it back down repeatedly. Of course, as your child grows older, you can help begin to say things like, “Here’s a little trick for when you put your shirt on. See this tag? It goes in the back, so if you hold your shirt like this…” If you want to see a neater bed, work with your child to make the bed until she is old enough to do it herself without your help, then praise that progress.
Mind Your Mouth and Your Own Behavior
How is your self esteem looking right now? What do you say about yourself? Are you always “too fat.” Are you fretting over every wrinkle. When someone compliments you on a meal, do you say, “Well the pork chops are a bit dry, ” instead of “Thank you.” If you drop something, or trip, or make a mistake, are you suddenly an idiot, or are you just human? To teach good self esteem, you really need to have it yourself. If this is a problem for you, then you need to seriously make changes in how you see yourself, and how you treat yourself when you are less than perfect. Being more mindful may work, but often, counseling can help you make changes more rapidly, and address any issues that impede your ability you model good self esteem to your kids. If your words and behaviors do not match what you tell your children, again, you will come off as less than honest.
Know When To Ask For Help
With my youngest daughter, it became clear to me, finally, that I was not the best person to help her learn to read. I was too close to the situation, and was beginning to feel like a failure myself. This was no good, so I got her a tutor at school who did not have that emotional investment. She also did not have the, “You are just saying that because you are my Mom and you have to say that, ” factor.
As my daughter got older, it also became clear that she needed the help of a therapist, and that her self esteem problems were bigger than the both of us. Rather than feeling defeated, I was truly grateful for the help, and I didn’t feel all alone in the battle anymore. It also helped me learn some new skills, and to see where I might need to correct my own belief system.
In the end, it takes a group effort to help your child develop self esteem. The messages come not just from you, but from friends, the media, teachers, and society. With all of those influences, many of them not particularly positive, it makes in even more essential that you send the right messages to your child, help him readjust his thinking when needed, and most of all set realistic goals for your child, yourself, and all of the other people in your life. Mixed in with all of this, a lot of love goes a really long way towards developing your child’s self esteem.
How Can I Help My Child Develop Healthy Self Esteem?
Children and Self Esteem