Building Positive Self-esteem in Children

March 1, 2022
Children form their own a self- concept, or picture of themselves, largely from the messages they get from others. Because parents and family are usually the most important people in the child's life, their messages are particularly powerful. The picture of self that forms in the early years will change throughout life, but the initial picture is crucial because it lays the foundation for relationships and attitudes toward how they will learn, grow and see the world.  

Self-esteem is an individual’s "subjective evaluation of their own worth." A positive picture of oneself translates into high self-esteem, a negative one into low self-esteem. While you want children to develop a realistic picture of self, one that is not inflated, you also want them to be confident and to know that they are valued.

Parents can help children develop positive self-esteem by:

·   Taking notice of what they are good at and enjoy. Every child has strengths and talents, when you value and embrace the whole child you contribute to the child's positive self-esteem.

·   Look beyond obvious strengths and talents to recognize and identify other less apparent ones such as empathy, sensitivity to others' feelings, resilience, perseverance, and sense of humor.

·   Avoid comparing children with other children. When you compare your child to others, they may interpret the message that his or her uniqueness is not valued or appreciated.

·   Provide a rich environment with many opportunities to try new things, meet challenges, and find success. The smallest accomplishments can make a big difference in a child’s positive self-esteem.

Children with healthy self-esteem take reasonable risks, withstand failure, and can survive disappointments without feeling a lack of worth. They know the difference between who they are and their actions. This means that the traditional advice to "criticize the behavior, not the child" is an important message to allow children to separate what they have done from who they are. In other words, "good" children will sometimes do not-so-good things and it is ok.

Dr. E is a Licensed professional counselor, certified coach, and founder of The Parent Pilot an “all things parenting” organization that helps parents successfully navigate the turbulent, but joyous years of parenting.

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