Building Healthy Self-Esteem in Young Children

Self-esteem refers to how much we value and believe in ourselves. Self-esteem also plays a major role in how successful our children will be. Children with healthy self-esteem will usually be confident in their capabilities, embrace challenges, and be willing to learn new things. Children with low self-esteem may feel unimportant, incapable, and be unwilling to try new things due to the fear of failure.

When my daughter was diagnosed with asthma, one of my concerns was whether labelling her as an asthmatic would lower her self-esteem. I tried not to address the asthma as an illness and pointed out that her mother, grandfather, and aunt all use puffers. I hadn’t really put much thought to her self-esteem before that. Now that she is in school, I often wonder if I am doing an adequate job in helping my daughter build healthy self-esteem.

So far, I think my daughter has healthy self-esteem but I know this could change at any point based on her experiences, perceptions, and of course age. I was worried that my daughter’s struggle with asthma would cause her to feel inferior or incapable but my daughter is still quite independent and wakes up every morning ready to take on the world. I praise my daughter often for her strength, determination, efforts, and good behaviour hoping it will help her self-esteem. Regardless of all my love and praise my daughter still takes a while to warm up to new people and new places. She lives in her own happy little bubble and sometimes looses sight of what is going on around her. But I dont think that has much to do with her self-esteem as it does with my daughter just being her.

Trying to get a little girl that lives in a bubble to focus on homework and learn can sometimes get frustrating which results in me losing my  patience and raising my voice to get her attention. I have even caught myself saying things like “I do not know how you are going to do well if you cannot pay attention,” which I was quick to realize will make her doubt her own abilities. I obviously feel guilty afterwards and fear damaging her self-esteem and tell myself I have to find a more constructive approach. I definitely don’t want to be the counter-productive parent that encourages healthy self-esteem while at the same time destroying it. As parents it is important that our children be the best that they can be, and by helping build strong self-esteem we can hope for just that.

Here are some things you can do to help strengthen your child’s self esteem:

1. Focus on your child’s strengths and talents instead of his or her weaknesses.

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Remember that your child will not have all the same strengths you have, just because he or she is your child. If you notice that your child has a special talent, encourage it, whatever it may be. While you praise your child’s strengths and talents, it is also important to help your child with his or her weaknesses so he or she will feel confident all around.

2. Encourage independence.

Sometimes it feels nice to be needed by your children but for their well-being it is important to encourage independence from early on. Being independent will allow your child to feel confident enough to take risks, embrace challenges, make decisions, and solve problems.  While you want to encourage independence by letting your child accomplish something on his or her own, it is also important for your child to know that you are there to help when he or she needs you. A little bit of enouragment goes a long way.

3. Give your children the opportunity to assume responsibility.

Give your children small responsibilities such as tidying up after themselves or helping you with a chore. My daughter has been helping me fold her laundry since she was two and she folds better than any adult I know. By being responsible for something your children will feel that they are contributing in a positive manner which will make them feel good about themselves.

4. Praise good efforts and good behaviour often. 

Praising good effort and good behaviour reinforces what is expectable behaviour and what is not. Plus praising encourages children to repeat the same behaviour to get positive attention. Keeping a sticker chart is a good way to reward young children for good behaviour.

5. Be a good example.

We all have bad days however don’t put yourself down, especially in front of your child. Avoid saying things like “I’m so stupid”, “I don’t know how to do this”, “this is too hard,”, “I look ugly” etc. You are your child’s role model and he or she learns more from you than you would think.

6. Enforce positive thinking.

If your child says something negative about his or herself, allow him or her to see all the positive things about him or herself. Teach your child to view him or herself in a more positive way.

7. Spend quality time with your child.

Spending uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child makes your child feel special and loved thereby giving him or her a sense of self-worth.

It may sound easy to build healthy self-esteem but it isn’t; you have to constantly work at it to get good results. In my opinion it is a lot easier to damage self-esteem.

Here are some ways parents can hurt their childrens self-esteem:

1. Using negative words such as “can’t”, “never”, “hate”, “ugly”, etc. and negative remarks.

Parents with high expectations, either knowingly or unknowingly use harsh words. This makes children feel less than adequate and fearful of not being able to meet their parents’ high expectations which in turn will discourage children from trying in the first place.

2. Comparing your child to his or her siblings or to other children.

Comparing your child may force your child to try to reach a standard that is unattainable, thereby discouraging him or her even further. Remember that all children are different. Instead of comparing your child to another, focus on your child’s unique strengths and talents.

3. Expecting perfection.

We all want our children to be smart, successful, and just wonderful but as the old saying goes, “Nobody is perfect.”

4. Expecting your child to be like you.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I told myself that she is going to be just like me. Everyone who meets my daughter tells her that she is just like her mommy. The reality as I came to discover is that although we share similarities, we are not the same. She is her own person so I cannot expect her to be just like me. I have to let my daughter be her own person.

5. Shaming.

Shaming your child for making mistakes will only discourage them from trying in fear of getting ridiculed again.

6. Demanding obedience.

Constantly yelling at your child to do something “because I said so” tells your child, that his or her opinions do not matter, as a result lowering his or her self-esteem. Studies show that children with low self-esteem often have trouble respecting authority.

7. Telling your child he or she cannot do something.

As a parent, you should be your child’s number one fan. Telling your child that he or she cannot do something shows that you do not believe in him or her and as a result he or she will also not believe in themselves.

A healthy self-esteem is your child’s protection against the challenges he or she will face in life, and that is why it is important to promote good self-esteem during childhood.

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