Children – like adults – perform best when they feel good about themselves.
We live in an uncertain world, where relationships are always changing, and we’re not always sure how we are perceived – this is especially true for children. When others give us positive words about ourselves, it reinforces the good feelings we have. Negative words and punishments (notice I said punishments…not discipline) reinforce the negative feelings and doubts we all seem to have about ourselves at some point in life. Simply put, positive self-esteem stems from feeling capable and loved.
Self-esteem is not a safe-deposit box, filled at one point in our life, locked, and there forever. Rather, it’s like a bucket of water with a hole in it that must continuously be refilled. As Alvin Price said, “Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self- esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” It’s an adult responsibility to make children feel special and loved so that their feelings of self-worth will give them the confidence that is necessary to meet the challenges that lie ahead of them. After all, our job as parents is to prepare our children for the future by equipping them with the tools they need to become successful adults!
“A healthy attitude of pride, self-respect, and just plain liking who they are affects the way children view the world… and it has a strong impact on their behavior. Parents have the greatest influence on building a child’s confidence and self-esteem and a strong sense of self-worth is one of most valuable tools that parents can give to their children,” says Ashlee Roberts, Prevent Child Abuse Virginia’s 800-CHILDREN Parent Helpline Director. “A person can be blessed with intelligence and talent but if he or she lacks self-esteem, it can be an obstacle in achieving success in a job, a relationship and in virtually every area of life.”
For the first 4 or 5 years, parents are the most important contributor. Once a child starts school, teachers and friends begin to play an important role in building confidence and self-esteem. Once he reaches adolescence, his peer group has an incredible impact. The more positive his confidence and self-esteem is before adolescence, the easier it will be for him to resist negative peer pressure. Confident kids are those who learn early on how to make their own decisions, and solve their own minor problems.
Here are a few simple strategies for building confidence and self-esteem in your child:
- Give unconditional love… A child’s self-esteem soars when he feels the kind of no-strings-attached devotion that says, “I love you, no matter who you are or what you do.” He benefits the most when you accept him for who he is regardless of his strengths, or weaknesses. So…shower him with love- tell him how much you love him – and tell him often! When you have to discipline him (because you will), make sure he knows it’s his behavior — not him — that’s unacceptable.
- Pay attention… Stop multi-tasking! Turn off your phone, shut down your laptop, and carve out some time to give your complete, undivided attention. That does more for your child’s confidence and self-esteem than just about anything else. It says, ‘you matter to me’.
- Be willing to let him fail… Give him the freedom to try something new, to do something for himself – to make mistakes. Self-confidence comes from being willing to fall down and get back up again, knowing and accepting that things won’t always go perfect, and from being a problem solver rather than expecting someone to come to your rescue. Teach him that it is the effort put forth that matters the most.
- Teach them how to handle conflict and failure… Life is full of conflict and we all have to deal with failure. Our job is to teach children how to deal with these hard things – it will empower them. As kids try and fail, try again, fail again, and then finally succeed, they develop ideas about their own abilities.
- Provide opportunities for a variety of creative activities… Creative activities allow for the child to see something that they created with a sense of pride – which will boost their self-confidence.
- Offer opportunities to accomplish meaningful work… By picking up their toys or helping with the dishes, they can experience accomplishments that have tangible results. When they complete even a small task, they build belief in themselves. They take those beliefs into new situations and feel strong about their ability to conquer hard things.
- Praise them. Be specific... Show that you’re interested by commenting on the specifics – “Tell me about the interesting shapes you’re painting.” Don’t reserve praise for something that has been accomplished. Especially with young children, the fun is in the doing rather than completing – building with blocks rather than completing a structure. (My five year old gets joy out of stacking them up, but gets even more joy from knocking them down!) Praise for effort and strategy instead of the end result. Congratulate him on trying (not mastering) something new.
- Be a good role model… We must avoid saying negative things about ourselves. If we’re constantly putting ourselves down, and saying negative things about our abilities, we’ll raise children who feel the same way. It’s critical that to speak positively about we are (and what we look like). A positive parent is one who knows that he or she is not perfect but values him or herself, while always trying to grow and improve.
It’s important to note that children who don’t feel safe or are abused are at greatest risk for developing poor self-esteem. Prevent Child Abuse Virginia believes that all children deserve a happy and healthy childhood – self-esteem is a key ingredient for a successful and happy life, and the early years of a child’s life are the foundation for a positive self-esteem.
*For more parenting tips, free educational materials or for a confidential listening ear, please contact PCAV’s Parent Helpline at 800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373). You can also email us at 800CHILREN@pcav.org