Self-esteem – the collection of pictures children carry around of who they are and how they fit in—is formed early in life. Even though children make these decisions internally, parents have a tremendous influence on the unconscious decisions children form. The way parents communicate both with words and actions, help children form healthy or unhealthy decisions about themselves.
Children usually form healthy self-esteem decisions when parents demonstrate that they believe their children are capable by giving them opportunities to experience their capability. They thrive when parents create an environment where children are allowed to contribute and when parents let children influence what happens to them by participating in decision making.
Children usually make unhealthy self-esteem decisions when they think they have to change to be good enough or when parents do too much for them so they don’t experience their capability. As a parent, you may think your children are great just the way they are, but what is more critical is what your children decide about themselves.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but contains a few key suggestions for fostering healthy self esteem in children:
1. Listen to your children and take them seriously. They are forming their ideas and opinions. How they think today may be different from how they think tomorrow, but they still need their parents’ ear and support. They need validation that their opinions are important.
2. Separate the deed from the doer when dealing with misbehaviour. For example, make it clear that you love the child but you don’t like crayon drawings on the wall. Remember that mistakes are opportunities for children to learn and grow and are not character defects.
3. Stay away from the use of praise. Praise may seem to work when things are going well and the child is succeeding. However, your children may become approval junkies, which means they believe they are okay only if someone else tells them they are. If you overuse praise, what do you do when your child is failing? That’s when he or she needs encouragement the most – some word or gesture that lets her know “You’re all right!” Encouragement is different from praise as it teaches self-evaluation. “I’m so proud of you for getting that A,” is praise. “You worked very hard to get that A,” is encouragement.
All the best,