Developing positive self-esteem is the foundation on which you build your whole life. It is not possible to possess self-confidence in facing life’s challenges without a strong self-concept. The way a child feels about him or herself can be positively or negatively affected by parents and other influential people during a child’s formative years. There is no doubt parents will exert the strongest influence on how a child feels about himself. The child with strong self-esteem will have the best chance to lead a fulfilling, happy life. Your self- esteem is simply your awareness of yourself; to be able to form an identity and attach a value to it. It is the total acceptance of yourself and how you feel about yourself in relation to others. It is the absence of judgment toward yourself and others.
The following are 16 great tips from Matthew Mckay, PhD. and Patrick Fanning for building self-esteem in children. I encourage you to read their book, Self Esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, and maintaining your self-esteem.
1) Parents must give love with no strings attached. Children cannot build a positive self-concept until we prove to them, without doubt, that they are good enough just the way they are.
2) You help children to feel in control by giving them choices. When you allow children to make decisions for themselves and experience the consequences of poor decisions, they feel capable of thinking for themselves. Rather than telling a child what to do, it is best to offer them options with limits. Put the burden of decision making on the child’s shoulders. Let real world consequences do the teaching. This approach helps children understand they are responsible for their actions, suffering the consequences for bad choices and rewards for good decisions. The key to raising responsible children is to give them the opportunity to be responsible by solving their own problems. By giving your children the opportunity to be responsible, you grow their self-esteem.
3) Parenting by rewarding acceptable behavior while punishing for inappropriate behavior teaches the child that parental approval is tied directly to their actions. Parents can be especially damaging to their child when forbidden actions are accompanied by anger, yelling, and physical separation; it says, “You’re bad and I’m rejecting you.” When a child’s actions manifest a poor decision, let the consequences do the teaching while you show sadness and loving sympathy toward the child. It is important for the child to feel their parents love and understanding when they are suffering the consequences of a poor decision. The goal is to separate their inappropriate actions from their concept of their own self-worth.
4) The ability to make things happen is a huge contributor to your self-esteem. Setting and working toward both long and short term goals is a necessary component. Establishing goals, visualizing your outcomes, taking positive actions toward accomplishing your goals, learning from failure during the process, and having a successful outcome, are some of the most effective tools in building a strong self-concept. It is important for parents to both model and discuss goal setting with their children.
5) The fear of failure limits a person’s actions. Those who hesitate to act because of fear of failure lose the opportunity to succeed. If you are a prisoner of fear, you will never grow your self-esteem. You must take action to experience success and move your life forward. Self-esteem is developed by accomplishing new and difficult tasks. Encourage a child to take action toward any goal. The child will get the most out of the process when they are allowed to make their own decisions and learn from their mistakes. It is also helpful for parents to model and talk about their own failures, learning experiences, and resulting actions with their children. Children can adopt a healthy attitude about failure when their parents model failure as an opportunity to learn and grow; encourage learning through failure.
6) Help your child to develop new skills; every individual requires a variety of skills to function independently so give them opportunities to develop new skills. Every new skill learned is a boost to their self-esteem. Giving your child responsibilities that contribute to the family’s daily functions is a good place to start. Again, parental modeling is very important- model work being fun. Whenever a child is learning a new task, never pass judgment on the work but rather how much fun it is to get the job done. Focus the child’s attention on the learning that is taking place and not the quality of the outcome.
7) When a child is in competition with someone, they are struggling to prove they are superior. This act of competition places them in a position where they are always comparing themselves to someone else’s achievements. In contrast, an individual with strong self-esteem compares himself to no one. He competes only within himself to advance his personal growth. He praises himself from within, not requiring praise from the outside to validate his worth. Parents can facilitate developing strong self-esteem by phrasing statements and questions that do not draw comparisons to others. Focus your comments and questions toward letting the child evaluate him or herself. For example, “Were you happy with your performance?” or “Were you happy with what you learned?” When discussing the performance of another, express joy for their natural talents.
8) Recognition and praise is music to the soul. Praising language is what motivates a child to learn; your approval shapes their behavior. Find as many opportunities to praise them as possible, because recognition helps a child to see themselves in a positive light.
9) Never attempt to make a child fit into your mold. Look for their unique talents, strengths, and interests; give them opportunities to develop them. Reinforce their unique differences in a positive way.
10) Be an active listener. Invite your children to talk. Listen for the main point. Pay attention to feelings being expressed and acknowledge negative feelings. Share similar stories of negative feelings about yourself. Help the child to feel good about themselves when they feel negative and defeated. When you stop listening you start saying, “you are not important to me.”
11) Avoid the following language styles which serve to diminish self-worth:
a) Overgeneralizing negative behavior. For instance, “Why do you always ……” or
“ You never ………” b) Ignoring positive behavior c) Giving a child the silent treatment d) making vague or unrealistic threats of punishment.
12) To grow a child’s self-esteem you need to make it easy for him to behave well. Practice the following steps a) Parents must develop reasonable expectations relative to the child’s age. b) When you know a situation will be difficult, anticipate the child needs and difficulties. Develop a plan how to help him cope. c) Practice specific behavior ahead of time. d) Use every opportunity to praise good behavior.
13) Engage your child in solving family problems. Let everyone’s feelings, needs, and ideas be heard. Write them down.
14) Promote success in school. Reasonable grades not only support self-esteem, but children also learn good life habits in school. They learn how to plan their time, finish homework on time, organize, work neatly, and exercise self-control.
15) Learning how to successfully relate to other people builds strong self-esteem. Children learn these social skills by practicing with other children. They must learn how to share, take turns, cooperate, negotiate, get along, and how to react to others.
16) You must model self-esteem to your children. Modeling strong self-esteem means you value yourself enough to place your basic needs first. When you model self-forgiveness, the child learns to forgive themselves. When you talk about your behavior and appearance with acceptance, they learn to accept themselves. When you are strong enough to set limits to protect yourself, they will do the same. Children learn the most by watching the example their parents set.
Building self-esteem in children is a learned and practiced skill. Write down one skill per month to practice and implement with your children.
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