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Encouraging Kindness: Building Self-Esteem in Children

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Kindness is such a simple word for such a big task. It’s a big task that we want to teach our children. But how do we teach such an abstract concept?

Much like any other thing we teach to our kids, it develops over time. We cannot show or tell them once and expect that the lesson is learned. Much of what we teach our children is through our modeling and their observation. So the question is not how do we teach them kindness but instead how can I model kindness for my child? There are a few ways to model kindness to your child that will not only teach kindness but also build his or her self-esteem.

First, Listen with Your Heart

Many times children exaggerate when something is hurting. They stub their toe and the tears start flowing. Or you notice that your child is extra whiny today. This is an opportunity to listen with your heart. What is the child trying to tell me? Does he or she hurt that bad? Does he or she need extra cuddles and extra attention? These are questions you may ask yourself when you are listening with your heart.

By showing compassion, you are modeling kindness and empathy. It’s easy to get caught up in our busy, full-schedule days and just tell our kids, “You’ll be OK, let’s go.” But this is missing an opportunity to model kindness.

The best thing you could ask is, “Are you OK? Do you need some extra attention?” Take the time to give an extra hug and kiss. And remember that one day they won’t want hugs and kisses, so savor the moments that you have and be the soft place for your child to fall. When children know that their parents have their backs with everything they do, they feel confident, self-assured, and loved. This is added to their self-esteem bank.

Next, Develop a System of Teamwork

When we think like a team, we act like a team. Our families are our support systems and can be called on when needed. In our culture, we seem to start teaching independence fairly early. Of course, we also teach consequences to actions and hold children responsible for behaviors. But we want to treat children like children.

We cannot expect adult behaviors or decision making from a young child, let alone a toddler. Remember that childhood is the only time in life that is truly care-free. Children are working hard on developing social skills and learning about the environment around them. Let them enjoy the time they have to learn these valuable lessons.

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If you are able, invest in extended family for help. It takes a community to raise a child, and there is no shame in asking for help. When we develop a system of teamwork, whether with the immediate family or extended family and friends, we are modeling compassion and showing kindness. Working together to help support and care for each other facilitates warmth, cultivates connectedness, develops relationships, and shows your child how to care for another.

As a bonus, the child will learn what it means to be a part of a team, and you may be surprised as to how much he or she starts helping out. When a child feels included as part of a team, he or she feels a sense of responsibility to his or her role. Nothing replaces belonging and acceptance. This is the biggest thing that can build self-esteem in your child.

Finally, Self-Care

As parents, we rarely get time to ourselves. Depending on how old your children are, you may have days full of diapers, feedings, soccer games, band practices, and much more. You may start feeling like the maid and the taxi service. But we do all this for love of our children and to give them the things we want them to have in this life.

However, we cannot do for others and not take anything for ourselves. There are two great gifts we can give to our children, the first being nurturing the relationship with the other parent. We must show kindness to our partners for our children to truly understand love and respect. Our children’s first model of what a relationship is like is the relationship of their parents.

The other great gift is taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others. We have all been to that point of exhaustion where it’s hard to see the silver lining or make lemonade when you’re handed lemons. Now is the time to practice some self-care. Call on your support network for the children and take a shower, get a massage, go see a movie, or read the magazine that has been on the table for a month. Do what you need to do to feel like you again; your children will thank you. And you will be modeling kindness to yourself. When children have a parent who is fully present and attentive to them, they can feel confident in knowing they are cared for. And what a gift that is to your child.

By being mindful about how we parent our children, we can easily implement these three things to model kindness. Remember to give yourself grace—we are all human and can’t parent perfectly all the time. A perfect parent doesn’t exist, and frankly, when we model our mistakes and how we make things right we are still teaching valuable skills. Kindness is a concept that is taught over time; no one mishap will forever leave a mark. Kindness to yourself and building your self-esteem is what your children will see. And this will be how they learn to take care of themselves as adults. So, be kind to yourself.

© Copyright 2013 by Carolyn Russo, MS, LMHC, therapist in Seattle, WA. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Jordyn June 22nd, 2013 at 8:23 AM #1

    The idea that we have to share kindness to others and model for our children the very concept of what being kind means is the key! You can tell them to be nice to other people all you want to but until they really see that in action with you behaving this way toward the significant people in your life they won’t really understand. We, like it or not, are the example by which they are going to follow. How do you wnat your kids to act when you know that they are emulating you? That’s something pretty significant to think about.

  • Taylor June 24th, 2013 at 4:22 AM #2

    It is quite simple really. You parent your children with love and kindness and it is almost a certainty that this is how they will also treat their family and loved ones. You encourage them, are kind to them, and help them to become the person that they want to be. This is all about how much love we instill in them and also by how much kindness we show them too. A child with low self esteem- if they aren’t kind to themselves then how will they ever have the ability to be kind to someone else?

  • Ashley Wells January 15th, 2014 at 9:52 PM #3

    That building self-esteem is the number one priority of raising, and educating, children, and that regular praising will encourage them to believe in themselves

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