In my view, self-esteem, the foundation for how we are in the world, is the most under-acknowledged component of mental health. One of our most important tasks as parents is to be sure the environment fosters in children perceptions of themselves as capable, effective human beings. Self-esteem is greatly impacted by how children feel about their ability to cope with life, a feeling that is largely developed by others. The way parents respond to their children communicates to them that they are loved, capable, and contributing people, which enhances their self-esteem. On the other hand, parents can unintentionally send negative messages to children that they are incapable and unloved, which contributes to low self-esteem.
A desirable self-esteem is likely being established if children perceive that they belong and that they are loved and respected within the family system. One way for parents to enhance that perception is to focus on their children’s strengths and accept their weaknesses. Children should be set up to be successful and learn how to embrace positive feedback from others, not discount it.
In order for children to understand how capable they really are, parents need to facilitate children reaching their full potential by demonstrating genuine interest and a desire to be productively involved with them. If an atmosphere of closeness and trust is created between children and their parents, children will grow increasingly interested in adult perceptions. All human beings, children in particular, have a basic need for potency, a sense of control over their environment, and an affirmation of their significance.
Children need to have opportunities to experience success. Success breeds success, which will result in building self-esteem. Parents can encourage children to work toward developing a level of self-understanding, which is a powerful influence on human behavior and is a crucial component in children reaching their full potential.
In order to ensure that their children are developing a desirable self-esteem, parents can do the following:
- Set time aside to talk with your children and be fully present. Children need to feel they are being listened to.
- Encourage children to take care of themselves through modeling a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet and getting enough exercise.
- Provide the opportunity for children to become involved in activities they enjoy. Allow children to have a voice in the activities they engage in to encourage their individuality and to develop their own interests and passions.
- Model a positive attitude toward yourself and others.
- Help children set goals, and celebrate when they reach them. If reaching their goal takes longer than expected, keep encouraging them. If plans need to be renegotiated, let children know it is OK in order to enhance their self-confidence.
- Encourage children to do their best and be proud of them for doing so. If they receive an A or a C in school, be proud of them for the effort they give.
- Despite the circumstances, let children know they deserve to be loved and accepted.
- Teach children that experiencing challenges and disappointments is a life skill and not a reflection of their worth or what they deserve.
- Let children know you will never give up on them and ensure that they are held accountable. Their self-esteem will be enhanced by taking responsibility for themselves and their behavior.
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