A child’s level of self esteem can determine how they feel about themselves and how they interact with the world around them. To help understand what type of impact a child’s self esteem can have on their overall life and how a parent can build their child’s self esteem, I have interviewed therapist Amy Jo Murphy.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I have been working with kids and their families for 16 years in a variety of settings. The last 8 years have been in private practice as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I opened my own practice in April of 2006. I have office locations in Omaha NE, Red Oak IA, and Corning IA.”
What type of impact can a child’s self esteem have on their overall life?
“Self esteem is an internal value about self. The value is calculated from a set of beliefs gained from experiences and interpersonal relationships. It is a cornerstone to happiness and peace with one’s life. Therefore, self esteem has an immense impact on a child’s life. If children esteem themselves as worthless or not important, they will be less likely to initiate relationships or freely explore their world. Their focus will be to avoid feelings of shame. Their response to the world around them is based in fear. They will most likely experience anxiety or depression later in life. However, if children esteem themselves as valuable or competent, their approach to life has greater exploration and interaction. They have confidence to explore and learn. Their focus will be on the excitement of the experience.”
What are some causes for a child that has a low level of self esteem and what are some things a parent can do to help build their child’s self esteem?
“Children’s self esteem is rooted in their relationship with their parents. From the first day of life, parents begin to build their child’s self esteem. As infants, getting their basic needs met sends a strong message that they are important. Parents should be attentive to an infant’s needs with love. As they grow, parents need to encourage independence by allowing their child to explore and experience the world around them. Parents that do everything for their child will produce feelings of incompetency. On the other end of that spectrum, parents that place demands outside of their child’s abilities, produce feelings of incompetency and failure.
The messages they hear become the foundation to building children’s self esteem. Negative messages are damaging and discouraging. All too often adults concentrate on negative labels for children’s behaviors. For example: if a child begins to cry because they didn’t get a toy they wanted, parents will label that as selfish or spoiled. They will say things like ‘if she doesn’t get her way she has a meltdown.’ Or, ‘if he doesn’t get his way he throws a temper tantrum.’ These messages are usually followed with, ‘She is an embarrassment.’ Or, ‘if you don’t stop crying you will not — ‘ These are all negative messages as well as parents making the child’s behavior about themselves, not about the child. If we take the same example and remember that children are learning and growing, then we will respond differently. Children who don’t get the toy they wanted are disappointed. Parents need to help them understand this feeling and what to do with it. A productive response that fosters growth would be to label the experience for them. For instance, ‘you didn’t get the toy you wanted, and you are disappointed.’ Parents could also normalize the feeling by saying ‘I would be disappointed too.’ By labeling and addressing children’s behavior in this manner, the focus is on developing emotional intelligence.”
What type of professional help is available for a child that needs a boost in their level of self esteem?
“The intervention that will have the greatest impact is changing the dynamics of the family. Family therapy can look at the relationships inside the family and change what is needed to establish a loving, nurturing environment.”
Thank you Amy Jo for doing the interview on building a child’s self esteem. For more information on Amy Jo Murphy or her work you can check out her website on www.ajcounseling.com.
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