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The first primary influence on a child's self-esteem or his sense of self-worth is his relationship with his parents. The connection between parent and child forms the basis for future relationships. The foundations of self-esteem are laid early in life when infants develop attachments with the adults who are responsible for them. When adults readily respond to their cries and smiles, babies learn to feel loved and valued.
In order for a child to have a healthy sense of self-esteem, they must believe the following is true about themselves:
I AM LOVABLE AND CAPABLE
Children must not only feel that they are loved but also that they are capable of accomplishing things. Many parents make their children feel loved but fall short of allowing children to feel capable. When parents do too much for their children, they are giving the message to the child that they feel that the child can't do things for themselves. An example of this is when six year old Mary says she can't clean up her room so Mom cleans it for her. Mom has taken away an opportunity for Mary to learn to clean her room and has given Mary the impression that Mom can clean better than she can. The result is that Mom is making Mary feel incapable and therefore hurting her sense of self-esteem. Other ways that parents do too much for their children are when they solve their problems, pamper them, make decisions for them and talk for them.
One of the best ways that parents can build their children's self-esteem is to give them chores. Children benefit from chores and activities that offer a real challenge because they stretch their abilities and give them a sense of accomplishment. Even children as young as 18 months old can do chores around the house. It is best to start as early as possible so that children learn that chores are a part of life and so that they will struggle less when you ask them to do things. Children 18 months old to three years old can: carry in the mail, wash tables with a sponge, pick up toys and clothes, wash vegetables, tear lettuce and stir, help set the table, help put groceries away, help make beds, clear dishes from table. Children four to six years old can do all of the above and: help fold towels, pour things, measure ingredients, water plants, sort white and dark clothes, help with vacuuming, sweeping and dusting, empty dishwasher and stack dishes on the counter, rake leaves, prepare their own lunch. Older children can do a lot more. Don't start with too many chores at once because you will be setting yourself up for a struggle. Begin by giving two or three chores and after a while you can add to them.
Be firm when you talk about chores by telling your child that everyone has to chip in around the house. Say "As soon as you get your room cleaned, we can go outside and play ball." Or try, "The rule of the house is that no one gets dessert until we clean the kitchen" Give children choices of which chores they would like to do. Don't always give them the undesirable chores like taking out the garbage. Sometimes you can let them choose the menu and cook dinner. Explain that when everyone pitches in and helps around the house, parents have more time to spend with their children. Your children will soon understand why they must help out and see the benefits to it.
A child's sense of self-worth is more likely to deepen when adults respond to the child's interests and efforts with appreciation rather than just praise. For example, if your child shows interest in something you are doing, you might include the child in the activity. Or if the child shows interest in an animal in the garden, you might help the child find more information about it. In this way, you respond positively to your child's interest by treating it seriously. Flattery and praise, on the contrary, distract children from the topics they are interested in. Children may develop a habit of showing interest in a topic just to receive flattery. If you do wish to say something positive to your child, instead of saying, "You are a good boy." Say, "Thank you for your help setting the table." Be specific and tell your children why you appreciate what they did.
As children grow, the influence of their peers grow stronger and effects their self-esteem. You can help your child by talking about experiences outside the home and by reassuring your child that you support and accept him or her even if others do not. If Tommy told your son that he is a loser, ask your son how he feels and tell him you understand how he can feel that way. Reassure him how much you care about him. During times of disappointment or crisis, your child's weakened self-esteem can be strengthened when you let the child know that your love and support remain unchanged. For example, if your daughter just lost her soccer game, listen to her feelings about the game and do not discuss your disappointment. Remind her that you love her and it is important that she have fun, not just win. The next time a crisis occurs, your child can use the knowledge gained from overcoming past difficulties to help cope with a new crisis.
Parents can play an important role in strengthening children's self-esteem by allowing them to feel capable, expressing appreciation to them and supporting them through their interactions with their peers and throughout their lives.
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