As a teacher with over 25 years of experience, I have often been asked for advice by parents about how they can help their children develop high self-esteem. It is widely accepted that high self-esteem, the collection of positive beliefs about oneself, is the single most important factor in leading a happy and successful life.
Children with high self-esteem are able to express their ideas willingly, share their feelings and opinions assertively and take risks. Children with high self-esteem use failure as a message to approach a problem differently and to try again until success is achieved. High self-esteem gives forth an "I can do it" attitude.
How can we help to develop a child's self-esteem? Since self-esteem is an internal feeling, it can only be developed by the child. That is why we can encourage a child and create a nurturing, safe environment, but not change what a child thinks of himself or herself.
What can parents do to provide a nurturing environment where self-esteem can flourish?
Model Good Self-esteem
You are the role model for your child. Express through your actions and words that you respect yourself and others. Children are great imitators. As a high school student, I was a frequent babysitter for my sister Gerry's two young children. One day as my sister ran out the door she yelled back to me, "Don't let them play Gerry and Joe!" I was confused. However, an hour or so later it became clear. My 7-year-old niece and my 5-year-old nephew were acting out the relationship that they witness in their home. They became their parents, Gerry and Joe. Well, let's just say that we all know about "too much information!" If you think you need to do so, work on boosting your own self-esteem. Children are watching and absorbing.
Talk About Life and the World in Positive Terms
Share stories with your children of your happy childhood experiences. Talk about the things you love about them and the other people that they know. Talk and read about heroes who model traits of honesty, perseverance and respect. Read about people who have overcome adversity to achieve beyond anyone's expectations. Allow your children to hear you express admiration for those you respect and admire.
Watch What They See on Television
Avoid putting news TV on when your child is present. Even though there is much negativity in the world, don't dwell on it with your child. If you must watch the news on TV or listen on the car radio, do it when your child cannot hear it. A child can be negatively affected by events over which he/she has no control and does not understand. When the United States entered the Gulf War in 1991, at 9 p.m. EST, we watched the bombs flare in Baghdad on television. Just 11 hours later, by 8 a.m. the next morning, my kindergarteners were making guns out of Unifix Cubes and pretending to shoot one another. Why did they need to know about the war?
Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Contribute
Nothing builds self-esteem more than a job well done. Give responsibility that is appropriate for the child's age and ability and a child will have the satisfaction that comes with achievement and a sense of importance to his/her family. Allow a child to do something for the family that only he/she is responsible to do. For example, 3- or 4-year-olds can place the napkins on the table for dinner. A 5-year-old can wipe the table after dinner. A 7-year-old can fold the towels after they are washed and hang-up his/her clothing.
Allow Children to Solve Their Own Problems
Encouragement gives a child the internal desire to learn, to achieve, to explore and to solve problems. Don't try to fix your child's problems. It is empowering for a child if you believe in their ability to achieve on their own. Encourage with statements such as: "You can do it" or "I have seen you do difficult things before." Ask open-ended questions such like "How would you solve that problem?" or "What could you do to make things better?"
Before stepping in to "fix" something for your child, allow your child to solve his or her own problem. It is difficult for most parents to stand by and watch a child working out solutions, but it is through this process that a child gains confidence.
Encourage a child to deal openly and directly with friends, teachers and siblings. Encourage a child to try new things and if not successful, try again. Show through your own example that you are willing to accept failure as motivation to do things differently. Finally, encourage a child to speak up for his/her rights and those of others.
Offering children a chance to build self-esteem is offering them the keys to achievement. High self-esteem gives them:
- The courage to express their thoughts, feelings and ideas appropriately.
- The willingness to persevere in the face of failure.
- The sensitivity and sensibility to act responsibly.
- The motivation to set and accomplish goals.
What greater gifts can we offer a child?
Joy Frost has been a teacher for over 30 years and is the mother of three grown children and the grandmother of two. She is also the author and creator of Joy Stories (Joy Stories, 2004), a series of children's bedtime stories for raising self-esteem.