The Foundation for Good Self-Esteem
Self-esteem. We hear those two words a lot. It is paramount to a child’s well-being, but what does it mean and how, as parents, do we foster it?
Self-esteem is about liking oneself, knowing you belong and are loved and valued for who you are as a person. Parents play a big part in the development of a child’s self-esteem. The view we have of our own self-influences, how our children perceive themselves, their value and their worth within the family, and their own subsequent pride in their struggle for success.
The Early Years
The preschool years
The foundations of self-esteem begin in toddlers and young children. Here are some ways parents can encourage their kids:
- Allow children to learn how to dress (even if it is mismatched or looks awful to the trained eye)
- Toilet training
- Teaching kids to manage a spoon, and later a knife and fork
- Letting kids help prepare meals
- Assigning age-appropriate chores that contribute to the workings of the family
- Introducing other life skills
This helps kids build a strong sense of who they are and know that they are capable and useful human beings.
The younger years
Young children are impulsive and cannot anticipate the consequences of their actions. As parents, we can be supportive by modeling the behavior we want to see, such as kindness, sharing, working with others, being polite, and showing empathy toward others. This last item is especially important, because until about 6 to 7 years of age, they are incapable of thinking about how others feel. Modeling this emotion will help prepare the pathway for empathy to develop.
Self-control is an important component of self-esteeem. There are ways to develop self control in young children, for example, by setting up daily routines such as getting ready for school and going to bed. These small expectations help children regulate themselves. Instructions that are short and to the point with frequent reminders allow children the opportunity to succeed.
The school-age years
A child’s world suddenly becomes a lot bigger when they go to school. There are teachers, office staff, other children, other parents, unfamiliar larger surroundings and many more rules and expectations. A lot of learning happens academically, socially and emotionally.
Since you are no longer the primary caregiver, being interested in what is happening at school, knowing about your children’s friends and the less-than-friend who may be a bully is key to supporting self-esteem.
Between ages 9 and 13 is the first time you may see a decline in self-esteem. For some, previously cherished activities, hobbies and toys are considered childish and cast aside, (well, in public anyway).
Parents want to preserve the confident, content children we knew, but instead, we don’t always recognize the people they are becoming. Here are some suggested tips to help keep up your child’s self-esteem:
- Respectfully listen and talk about the day-to-day ups and downs to help children develop ways to deal with emotions and the decisions they make.
- Allow them to make mistakes. Disappointment is a part of life and if we intervene or protect our children from every unpleasant event, we are telling them they are not capable and setting them up for failure later in life. Just make sure you are there with sympathy and support.
- Keep in mind that a child’s self-worth cannot be measured by a school grade, extracurricular activities or entry into a prestigious school or university. It is about the internal ability to master accomplishments, which in turn generates genuine feelings of pride and self-worth.
- Continue to praise your child in a healthy manner.
Middle school years
Middle school is a mixture of childhood innocence and emerging personalities, plus the beginning of body changes. Hormones influence emotions and temperaments. Body changes trigger many to feel inadequate and even ashamed.
Self-esteem has the potential to plummet in the middle school years even in a child with previously healthy self-esteem, especially as friendships often fluctuate. As parents, being present and listening to the melodrama of school allows children to talk through the things that are troubling them. By giving emotional support and reassurance, and reminding children of your family values, you can help keep self-esteem in tact even if it gets a little beaten up.
Having friends or identifying with a group is very important at this age. I always found it hard not to try and fix all the problems my daughter faced in school from the “mean girls.” Sometimes I did interfere, and it made matters worse! Her self-esteem would have benefited more if I had left her alone, listened and let her work things out for herself.
However, parents do need to step in if there are signs that friendships are damaging to the health and well-being of their child, or if bullying is evident.
Dealing with the ups and downs of self-esteem during these years is a challenge. Role modeling continues to be an effective influence and encouraging children to do the right thing empowers them.