Self-esteem is a set of beliefs and feelings that we have about ourselves, and these patterns are formed in early childhood. A healthy self-esteem is developed only with positive parental involvement. Appreciation and love are two important factors that help to form a healthy self-concept. As children grow older, they are quite sensitive to the opinions of their peers. How your child values herself/himself or how worthy they feel is a factor that affects the choices they make as well as their behavior. Children with low self-esteem grow up to be insecure adults, have trouble making friends, are more vulnerable to substance abuse, bullying, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies.
The messages children receive from important adults in their lives can influence their self-esteem.
Consider the following:
Teacher says: The rest of the class is way ahead of you, you really need to buck up.
Child interprets: My teacher thinks I am slow.
Neighbour/Relative says to parents: Both of you are so fair. Where did Seema get her dark complexion?
Child interprets: I am dark and ugly.
Parent says: Look at Arun, he is so clever at math. Why can't you learn something from him?
Child interprets: I am dumb in math and my mother likes Arun more than me.
Children are extremely impressionable. The kind of damage that such statements can have on a child's tender psyche is great. As parents we need to tackle them head-on. It is important to be sensitive about what and how we communicate with them.
How You Can Encourage Healthy Self-Esteem
Show Appreciation & Avoid Too Much Criticism
Your words have a great impact on the confidence of your child. Watch what you say and how you say it. Be truthful and specific in your praise. For example if he hasn't scored well in his math test, avoid saying, "Your math scores are pathetic. Next time work harder and get better grades." You could instead say, "Well, your grades seem to have slipped, but I really appreciate your efforts. What else do you think we can do to better your grades the next time?" This statement validates his feelings, acknowledges the situation and offers scope for improvement without belittling him.
Demonstrate Your Love
Children need to be shown love through words and action. Be generous with your hugs and verbal praise. Children need to know that you are proud of them. Yes, even seemingly indifferent teenagers! However much they shrug away your hugs or are embarrassed by your words, the messages of acceptance are received, even if not acknowledged.
Children can respect themselves only if they know that their thoughts and feelings are important. When parents listen, acknowledge and value their opinions and apprehensions, they feel that they are worth something. Treat your children with the same respect that you would a friend or colleague. Nobody likes being shouted at, humiliated or insulted.
Create a Home That is a Safe Haven
Children need to feel secure and accepted in their homes to develop a healthy self-esteem. If they are constantly exposed to warring parents and unpleasantness at home, they may become depressed or withdrawn. Have your disagreements in private and never in front of the child. As parents we have to provide them with a safe physical environment, set clear rules and boundaries, be consistent in our approach and realistic in our expectations.
Differentiate Between Behaviour and Person
When you find your child doing something unacceptable, don't use negative labels like stubborn, lazy, clumsy, hyper or stupid. These diminish self-esteem. Even if you think your child is lazy, don't call him that. Instead, convey your disapproval of the behaviour that is unacceptable. You could say, "What you just did was very dangerous, you could have hurt someone very badly", instead of, "How can you be so stupid? Don't you know what could have happened?"
Equip Them With Decision-Making & Problem-Solving Skills
Decision-making and problem-solving are two important skills that can help a child become confident and independent. Encourage your child to try something new, solve puzzles and try alternative approaches to problems instead of providing them with ready-made solutions. Involve them in daily chores and give them responsibilities to show that you have confidence in their abilities. Praise them when they follow through with their responsibilities. Abstract thinking, reflection and flexibility will improve their cognitive abilities and stand them in good stead right into adulthood.
Accept Your Child As He Is
It is very important that the child is accepted for who he is rather than who you want him to be. The child needs to know that no matter what the situation is, his parents will accept, love and support him. Knowing that his parents accept him, flaws and all, helps him feel secure and enhances self-esteem.
Help Your Child Handle Failure
Teach your child not to treat failure like the end of the world and instead convert it into a learning experience. Acknowledge his failures but at the same time encourage him not to take it personally. Help him see that rejection or failure is a part of life and can happen to anyone including adults. What is important is to pick oneself up and move on. Encourage him to develop skills like patience, resilience and courage.
Children should be encouraged to pursue activities that interests and motivates them. Activities that allow a child to enjoy and succeed are excellent ways to build self-esteem. Focus on the enjoyment, allowing them to revel in their own achievements rather than demanding perfection from the child.
Be a Good Role Model
Parents have to fulfil various roles as a caregiver, mentor and a positive role model. It's important that parents have a healthy attitude about themselves and tend to their own self-esteem. While none of us is perfect, it does help if we value ourselves and keep trying to improve and evolve. If we are hard on ourselves or excessively pessimistic or negative about our abilities, then our children will mirror our own insecurities.
As parents, the responsibility is on us to provide an environment where a child can develop wings and fly, knowing that he can always return to the nest, his home, a safe haven.