A child’s early thoughts and feelings about him/herself are important to the development of a healthy self-esteem. Although many factors impact a child’s developing sense of self, parents are quite instrumental in this development and can take a variety of steps to nourish positive self-esteem. Something as simple as using a child’s name when speaking to him or her validates the child’s separate existence and helps forge a solid sense of self. Below are strategies parents can use to foster a healthy self-esteem.
1. Encourage your children to make choices about day-to-day routines and activities. For example, seek a child’s input on what to have for dinner. This can be done by posing questions such as “which would you like to have, chicken or fish?” Then, enlist the child’s assistance in the meal preparation. These types of actions send the message “you are important to me and to this family.”
2. Teach your child to identify and appropriately express his/her feelings. An important aspect of teaching your child to manage his own feelings is helping him label his feelings. For example, a parent could say something like, “It looks like you’re angry because you can’t go outside and play” or “I see that you are disappointed.” Also, asking questions-“Are you feeling sad right now?” helps to educate children about feelings in general and lets them know that they are separate human beings entitled to have their own thoughts and feelings. These efforts go a long way in fostering healthy self-esteem.
On the flip side, attempting to stifle a child’s expression of feelings might have a negative effect on his sense of self. For example, remarks like, “Quit crying” and “Stop acting like a baby” send clear messages to children that they are not supposed to express feelings and that when they do, they will be ridiculed, shamed or ordered to stop. Avoiding such remarks is best.
Consistently showing respect for children’s and teen’s feelings yields double rewards: they learn to respect you and gain self-respect/esteem as well.
3. Allow time each day to converse with your child. In today’s hectic world, this strategy may be difficult but is very important to a child’s self-esteem development. Individual attention provided consistently to each child is integral to promoting a strong sense of self. Even short snippets of time spent driving children to school or daycare can lead to quality exchanges rather than harried, disorganized rides. Parents must make special effort to use this time for communication.
Talking to children while cleaning or performing other daily tasks or routines together can effectively use time throughout the day also establishes important connections with them.
4. Showing an interest in your child’s interests builds self-confidence and feelings of self-acceptance, which boost self-esteem. Listen intently to children’s discussions of dinosaurs, their favorite pop star, or books they are reading. Doing so clearly says, “You are important and I care about you.”
5. Finally, make verbal praising and compliments a normal and consistent element of your communication with your child. Make statements like “You look pretty in that orange blouse”, “Thanks for helping to make the cake-you did a great job”, or “Wow, you were fantastic in your soccer game” a part of your daily exchanges and interactions.
Most children hunger to hear positives about themselves and such comments feed the growth of a strong self-esteem. As parents, it is easy to fall into the trap of showing negativity and criticism to remind children when they make poor choices, yet remain silent or not notice when they are behaving appropriately. So, to successfully apply this strategy, focus consistently on positives instead.
Although there are many other ways to increase a child’s self-esteem, these suggestions are especially simple to apply and are effective with children and teens. Modifications to these strategies can be made to fit the age and needs of the individual child or teen. In summary, following basic rules with children, such as taking time, showing respect, and focusing on positives can go a long way in encouraging the healthy development of their self-esteem.
Professional experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor