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Helping your child develop positive self-esteem is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Children who feel good about themselves are better at handling difficult situations and are better able to resist negative pressures. For children with low self-esteem, anxiety and frustration are common feelings. The child has difficulty solving problem situations and does not have the confidence to be successful. The child may also feel that even if they could accomplish a task, it is not meaningful to anyone.
Self-esteem is defined as the collection of beliefs or feelings we have about ourselves; also called our “self-perceptions”. The way we perceive ourselves shapes our attitudes and behaviors and affects our emotional adjustment.
Development of self-esteem starts as an infant and continues all of our lives. A baby, who expresses needs to a caregiver figure, has validation, or a sense of well being after the need is met. The infant develops trust for the caregiver. The attachment in the relationship is strengthened each time a need is expressed and met. After a sense of trust has been established, the baby develops the feeling that their needs are important to someone else, because that person is recognizing the needs exist and meeting the needs. There is usually also positive verbal praise given by the caregiver, or smiling, or some type of touching, so that the infant has a sense of well-being. This forms the basis for developing positive self-esteem.
Self-esteem also involves the positive feeling of being capable of completing tasks successfully and of being loved. Parental or caregiver involvement is extremely important to help a child feel positive self-esteem. Children sense that they belong by the way their parents act and behave towards them. Show and tell your children often how important they are to you and that you appreciate what they do. Respect your child. It is true, that children learn what they live. Being respected by a parent is an important way to teach your child how to treat others. Give your child a sense of belonging in your family. Show them you need their help by giving them age-appropriate chores and praising them when the chore has been completed. Make sure to spend time alone with your child, listening to what they say. Give your child your full attention and don’t ridicule what they say. Another way to help build your child’s self-esteem, is to encourage opportunities for them to interact with others. Social skills can be learned and as your child feels good about the interactions, they will feel good about themselves.
You can create learning opportunities for your child as he or she is ready to try them. Make sure the activity you choose is age-appropriate and builds on your child’s strengths. Encourage your child as they begin the activity and progress. Help your child think through what they are doing if parts of the activity are difficult. Praise your child for the progress and effort being made, not just completing the task. If the activity is complex, break it up into steps and make sure you don’t take over and do the task yourself. Let your child try it and work through it. This will give him or her sense of pride and accomplishment when it is done. Remember, learning takes practice. Your child will need several opportunities to learn a new task and will need to practice doing it before feeling confident. If your child is reluctant to try a new activity, most often this is because he or she has low self-esteem and has a low tolerance for frustration. He or she will give up easily or say things like “I’m dumb, I can’t do this.” Children with low self-esteem are likely to be more self-critical and feel nobody cares.
Remember to be a positive role model for your child. Don’t criticize yourself or others. Children listen to what adults say. Be respectful of others, so that when you give your child praise, he or she will know you are being sincere.
Starting school can be a transitional time for your child re-evaluating how he feels about himself. Being accepted by peers can be difficult. As a parent, you can be aware of the changes and support what you have taught your child at home. Continue to be clear about your values and spend time listening to your child about the experiences he is having. If necessary, contact your child’s teacher to make sure he or she is aware of issues that may need to be addressed at school.
You can also help your child maintain positive self-esteem by helping him or her through times of disappointment or crisis. Let him or her know you are there for support and show your concern and love for the child. After the crisis has passed, talk about it with your child to reflect on what went wrong. The knowledge learned will help your child through the next difficult time. As hard as it may be, there may be times when you can see a difficult situation coming for your child, and feel you want to jump in and “save” them from being hurt. If the child is not in danger, it is often best not to “help” your child. Let him or her experience the situation to learn from it.
Having positive self-esteem is an attribute your child will benefit from his whole life. As a parent it is very important that you should encourage, respect, and praise your child to help him gain confidence and a positive self-image.