By Nancy Poitou, M.A. M.F.T., C.T.S. ©1997
Self Esteem is a word often used in connection with good mental health, but rarely is it explained how we get poor self esteem and how we cultivate good self esteem. Good self esteem means to hold oneself in high esteem, feeling worthy of a good life and good treatment by others. Good self esteem helps protect children from the traps they are exposed to growing up in our modern society.
• Accept your child as a separate human being with emotions that are important. Allow them to have their own feelings and express them. Listen to their feelings as much as what they say and paraphrase it back to them. Being an empathetic parent develops an empathetic child who will then grow into being an empathetic adult that is sensitive to others and is capable of good relationships.
• Praise your child for what they do well. Sometimes parents refrain from praise because they fear their child will get a big ego. That is not the case, children are anxious to learn what to do right and by your praise you give them guidance and approval. Respond to their successes with small celebrations and comfort and encourage them when they fail.
• Tell your children you love them just the way they are and hug them often. Remember children hear your tone of voice more than your words, so speak to them with respect and loving kindness.
• Children learn from the examples in their life, telling them what to do is not nearly as effective as being a good example and a positive role model. Children learn respect by observation, show them and others respect and they will follow your example.
• Start your child learning developmentally appropriate decision making skills, start with letting them pick between a few choices of which toy they will take in the car with them and then as they get older choices about what to wear, on a cold day allow them to pick between two warm outfits and as they get older widen the choices so that they will be able to pick out their own outfits. As they mature more complex decisions will lead to more in depth decision making conversations that include the possible choices and the consequences, costs, advantages and disadvantages of each choice. In the process allow them to make mistakes that are harmless so that they can learn from mistakes also.
• When disciplining them differentiate the behavior from the child. Do not label the child with name calling, but you might say, “I didn’t like it when you ______” rather than “You are really stupid.”
• Talk with them about their day, listen and ask questions with interest. Have them read to you and show you their school work.
• Get your children involved in healthy activities like sports, music and dance. Attend their activities.
• Don’t lean on your children emotionally and have them take care of you. Allow them to lean on you for support.
• Let them know what is expected of them in social situations but don’t make them act like little adults in every situation.
Self esteem results from self respect and respect from others. Self respect includes competence, confidence, mastery, achievement, independence and freedom. Respect from others includes recognition, acceptance, status, and appreciation. Healthy self esteem is a realistic appraisal of one’s capacities and begins with deserved respect from others. When these needs are not met a child grows up feeling discouraged, weak and inferior and so is vulnerable to finding other ways of being accepted outside of the family and is then susceptible to looking for acceptance from other groups like gangs and are vulnerable to peer pressure and acquiring feelings of acceptance through sex, drugs and alcohol.
Positive self esteem means having confidence, a child knows who they are in the world and does not have to fit in to be accepted. Encourage them toward college and career. When children feel confident and capable growing up and hold a vision of a satisfying future they are less likely to get into trouble that could prevent them from reaching their goals in life.