A Guide to Improving Your Child's Self-Esteem

The words get tossed around in child development litera­ture, and even nonscientists may talk about those people who have "poor self-esteem." What is self-esteem, and here does it come from? Self-esteem is, in basic terms, a person's pride in himself. To have self-esteem, we must feel both lovable and capable as a person. This takes us back to family, teachers, and early caregivers, all of whom serve to establish a basic sense of security for young children. The verbal environment in which a child is raised plays an ex­tremely valuable role in the development of self-esteem. How much adults say to a child, what they say, how they speak, and how well they listen all contribute to that basic sense of security and love (or lack of it).

A positive verbal environment is one in which words are used to show affection and interest in a child. When adults listen attentively, speak courteously, and use a child's interest as the basis for conversation, they are telling the child they are interested in him. This type of positive verbal atmosphere creases the likelihood that children view adults as a source of comfort and support.

There are literally hundreds of ways that we, as parents, can foster our child's self-esteem. First, and most important, is providing unconditional love. The message that no matter what you do or how you behave you will always be loved must be relayed to children on a daily basis. This is the true basis of security. When you get angry with your child (and you will!), express your anger by using "I" messages. There is a big differ­ence between statements like, "I get really upset and angry when you are not careful and spill your milk" and "What is wrong with you? Can't you ever do anything right? Don't you have a brain in your head?" No one would feel very good after a statement like this!

Learn to listen to your child. Chatty five year olds tend to go on and on about things that may not seem as important as the television or newspaper. Children need your full attention when they speak, or they need to be told that you will be able to give them your full attention in five minutes. This lets them know you are interested in what they have to say.

Take your child's feelings seriously. What we may view as unimportant can be earth shattering to a five year old. Find something to appreciate about your child everyday. There are days that may seem like a difficult task, but have confidence that you can find something!

Show your child respect—for his possessions, opinions, and choices. When adults question a child's decision about something or demean a choice he has made, they undermine his pride in himself. Children at age five are beginning to self-evaluate. Their sense of confidence is far from strong and can be easily destroyed by negative comments.

If your child puts himself down, it is important to inter­vene immediately. Help to counter his put-downs by teaching him to focus on his abilities. Share your own feelings about yourself and about things you may have felt at that age. Help your child to focus on his uniqueness, and express your love nonverbally with hugs and embraces.

As a parent, it is extremely important to avoid giving your child mixed messages. Be clear about the rules and requests you make of your child. If you make a promise, keep it. If you can't keep it, explain to your child why and make an extra effort not to make promises you can't keep. Model appropriate behavior for your child. You are probably the most important person in your child's life, and what he sees from you will be incorporated into his feelings about himself.

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