How to Strengthen Your Child's Self-Esteem
Helping children build strong self-esteem is one of the most important jobs a parent has. Parents are the most important people in a child’s life. They are the ones who exercise the most influence on how a child feels about him or herself. They are a child’s source of comfort and security.
Parents are the ones who help their children figure out how they see themselves. Therefore it is important that parents practice loving acceptance towards their children. In turn, children will learn self-acceptance.
Children often seek approval from their parents in order to feel accepted by them. When parents accept their children and truly value and appreciate them, they provide a psychological shield that will promote the development of healthy self-esteem. If a child does not receive this acceptance, the child will, as an adult, have a harder time accepting him or herself.
We must keep in mind that children learn from their parents, and from the responses and reactions of their parents. If these responses show love, affection, and security, a child will learn that he or she is important and loved. These will be the child’s first lessons of value and positive self-esteem. If these responses demonstrate a lack of appreciation or indifference, the child will come to believe that he or she is not loved, and this can cause feelings of despair.
Parents must accept their children unconditionally, appreciating their unique personalities and recognizing their strengths and weaknesses. If parents focus on how they want their child to be and hope the child is like them when they grow up, they are creating a rigid ideal to which their child will feel the need to conform.
In order for children to feel heard, their parents must show interest in them. When we listen to someone, the message we send them is that they are important and what they have to say interests us.
Recognizing and validating a child’s emotions is fundamental. If we categorize their feelings as “bad” or we make them repress or deny their emotions, the result can be low self-esteem, insincere behavior and a loss of the ability to connect with their feelings, causing them to fall silent.
Telling kids how they should feel, comparing them with others, responding to them with ridicule or sarcasm, denying them their feelings or using threats and punishments as a consequence for what they feel, are common reactions by parents towards their kids and causes children to feel isolated and deny of their feelings.
To help our children learn to accept and express all feelings, we must:
- Encourage them to express their feelings in a safe and accepting environment.
- Help them to find different ways to express themselves.
- Tell them about similar situations in which we have felt the same as they do, in order to reinforce the idea that we understand them.
- Be a good role model when confronting strong feelings.
- Help them feel okay in situations of defeat or deception.
The language of self-esteem
We should not forget that one of the most powerful tools parents have to strengthen their child’s self-esteem is language.
Each interaction that parents have with their children has the potential to leave a lasting impression. Therefore it is so important to pay attention to the words and the tone of voice used when it is directed at a child, making sure to use a style of language that bolsters self-esteem.
For example, we must be careful to differentiate between the child and the behavior in our communication with them. Furthermore, we should communicate how we feel or what we think about what has happened. Finally, in order to encourage self-esteem we must communicate full recognition of what the child is feeling, thus validating his or her experience.
As parents, our job includes being instructors and educators in the skills needed to live in the world. The use of discipline may sometimes be necessary, but it is important to keep in mind that our ultimate objective should always be to create a safe environment and facilitate learning and independence.