Helping Kids Have a Healthy Self-Esteem

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The boy looked at his mother and said, “I don’t think I can. I usually mess things up.”

The mother sighed and wondered why her son was so reluctant to try new things. She just knew that he could be good at so many things if he would just try.

In the situation above, the boy is displaying a poor self-esteem which is making him more hesitant to take risks and move out of his comfort zone. Self-esteem is often mentioned in conversations but can be easily misunderstood. Self-esteem is how people think and feel about themselves. It is a global evaluation of all of our strengths and weaknesses.

Children with low self-esteem not only are reluctant to take risks but often talk and think negatively about themselves. On the flip side, children with very high self-esteem can be described as being cocky or arrogant. The goal is to develop a healthy self-esteem that is a balance between being too cautious and too egotistical.

When children have a healthy self-esteem, they experience a range of positive outcomes. They tend to do better in school, have good relationships, and feel happy and satisfied. The goal for parents is to encourage their children to develop a healthy self-esteem.

A first step parents can take to establish a healthy self-esteem in their children is to show them unconditional love and acceptance. This means that children know that even when they make mistakes and experience failure, they are still loved by others.

A second step for parents to take is to listen to their children when they talk about their experiences and opinions. Parents can show that they are carefully listening by not interrupting the child when he is talking or telling the child how he should feel. Parents who carefully listen send the message to their children to trust themselves and their feelings.

A third step is to set firm and consistent boundaries for children. This means being firm and consistent when discipline is warranted and setting high but reasonable expectations. The structure that this provides allow children to feel safe and have the confidence to explore and take risks.

A fourth step is to praise effort. All children can put forth effort on any task even though some children may not succeed. By praising effort, parents are encouraging children to focus on the process of applying themselves rather than solely focusing on the final outcome. When parents do praise, it needs to be specific and describes what children have done well rather than a generic, “good job.”

Finally, parents should try to find opportunities for their children to have success. This means choosing activities for children that are developmentally appropriate and in which children are likely to succeed. Some examples include learning a musical instrument, playing a sport, or developing a hobby. Children can also feel successful with they provide some sort of service to their homes, schools, and/or communities.

Self-esteem is something that can nurtured by parents. Look over the various steps that can be taken and try a couple out over the next few weeks. See how your children respond. They may start displaying a healthier self-esteem as a result.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on June 14, 2015

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