Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am capable”, or “I am valuable”) and emotions such as joy, despair, pride and disgrace. Self-esteem is learned through our accomplishments, failures, and the feedback we receive from others. Parents can have the greatest impact on our self-esteem as we are developing into adults. Children want to be valued and loved, eventually taking those messages and, if given positive messages, it increases their self-esteem. Self-esteem is not narcissism, but respect for one’s self and abilities; it helps us to endure the difficulties in life we will all face. How do we as parents foster good self-esteem and ensure that our children are prepared for their lives?
First, we can foster their independence. Self-esteem does not come from constant, consistent over the top praise for each action; self-worth is built on accomplishing a goal and feeling pride in it, not false praise given because it is an obligation to praise. Help your child pick realistically achievable goals and help them to accomplish them. Praising a ten-year-old for coloring a picture is not going to increase self-value, whereas congratulating them on painting a piece of art can be. Make sure that you are helping them solve problems that are challenging for them and not problems that are too easy.
Second, avoid overprotecting your child. When your child experiences losses, challenges, and failures, learning determination and developing a drive to continue in the face of problems versus giving up in defeat, then real successes do not feel hollow. Being there when your child experiences a loss helps to increase the bond that you have with them as a parent. You can be the safety net that children need, to help them get up and encourage them to try again, so that they can learn from their mistakes. If you show them high expectations and encourage them by showing you know what they are able to achieve, then often they will your expectations.
Third, stay away from comparisons, particularly to siblings and close friends. Children are exceptional in their qualities, capabilities, and skills. Even as adults, we do not like the feelings we get when we compare ourselves to other people. It is rarely encouraging to tell a child that their brother or sister can do something, so they should be able to also. Instead of comparing a child to someone else, just change your assertion to, “I know you can”. When your child compares themselves to a friend or classmate, remind them that they have different abilities and that comparing themselves to others is not being fair to themselves, and then encourage them to keep trying.
Fourth, give them chores, age-appropriate jobs around the house; helping you can make them feel that they are contributing to the family and can make them feel important. When using the chores as an exercise in building self-worth, be encouraging that they can complete the job. If your child struggles or does not complete the chore, don’t discipline or punish for failure to get the job done; instead, help them understand that they are important, and that the chore was important, and then redirect them to try again and provide them guidance or help.
Fifth, listen with total concern for what your child is saying. Give them your full attention and show them you care enough about their problems or concerns by how you are interacting with them. Ask a few open-ended questions to draw out more information. Then, when you speak, choose your words with care, because your child is listening too.
In all things, express your love. A child needs to know that they are loved unconditionally. Unconditionally means that they do not have to do something in order to earn the love of their parents. Self-worth, encompassing positive beliefs and positive emotions, helps children and adults to accomplish and complete their goals and live a satisfying happy life. Parents have the greatest impact on their children’s self-esteem and should work to build positive aspects of self-worth for their children. Regardless of success, failure, challenge, discipline or any other problem, children should know that whatever the outcome, their parents will always continue to love and care for them.
© Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Gallup. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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