Beliefs That Build Self-Esteem

Does your child meet new social, school and sports experiences with confidence? Does she feel that her family loves her unconditionally? Does he handle responsibilities well?

If you answer yes to these questions, then chances are your child has healthy self-esteem. But many children with low self-esteem are held back from reaching their true potential and from being happy. Parents play a critical role in determining how children feel about themselves and their abilities.

There are three basic beliefs about themselves that contribute to children's self-esteem. Parents can act in ways that help or hinder the development of these basic beliefs.

I am loveable.
Children need to feel that they are accepted and loved unconditionally. They feel important and valued when adults pay attention and listen to them. When you look your child in the eye and wait patiently as she expresses her ideas, you are showing your interest in and respect for her. She will feel that her ideas and experiences are important.

Playing with children is another way of showing your desire to be with them. It conveys the message that you like their company and enjoy doing things with them. Through play, parents and children can express difficult feelings, discuss problems, find solutions and reduce stress. More importantly, they can have fun and learn to appreciate each other.

How you choose to correct your child's behavior also communicates respect and love. Bad behavior does not make a child a bad person. He stills needs to feel loveable even when he misbehaves. The goal of discipline is to teach children appropriate behaviors, not to humiliate them or make them suffer. When parents use fair methods of discipline, children feel respected.

The words you use when you talk to your children have a powerful effect on their self-esteem. Unkind words almost always tear down self-esteem, but even praise may make a child feel inferior. General statements like, "You are such a smart boy," can be upsetting to children who feel that they are loved only because they're smart or that they must always act intelligently to be recognized. Use kind words, a gentle tone of voice and descriptive phrases to communicate your appreciation and encouragement.

I am capable.
When parents take time to teach children how to do tasks for themselves, they are helping them feel independent and capable. When parents do everything for the child or try to protect him from failure, he gets the message that he isn't a competent or trustworthy individual.

Help children focus on learning to do things for personal satisfaction rather than outside approval. When your child asks what you think of her drawing, reflect the question back to her. Did she like doing it? Is she pleased with her effort? Would she like it hung on the refrigerator? These questions help her evaluate her own performance and find her own motivation.

Sometimes the hardest part of helping your son or daughter become capable and independent is allowing him or her to make mistakes and face unpleasant consequences. You may wish to protect your daughter from disappointment by discouraging her from trying out for the team, but you are more likely sending a message that you don't have much confidence in her. When parents react this way, children learn to avoid challenges and limit their options in life.

When toddlers are learning to walk by falling down, parents handle repeated failure well and consistently encourage them to try again. The same approach works at any age. Children need comforting when they are disappointed and support to try again. Parents should have the attitude that mistakes are not failures and the confidence that children learn and succeed despite their mistakes.

I am responsible.
Individuals with low self-esteem often feel powerless to change their situation and make their lives better. This belief often translates into a coping pattern of passively accepting whatever occurs.

Responsible individuals not only do their fair share and follow through on jobs, but also take responsibility for their actions and take charge of their lives by setting goals and solving problems. They often feel responsible for others and society at large.

Parents help children become responsible individuals in several ways. Even very young children can be given appropriate choices. When children make their own decisions, they feel in control and empowered. Parents should not overwhelm children with too many choices or difficult decisions, but should make every effort to let kids have a say when appropriate.

Parents can also assign family chores according to age and ability. Children feel a deep sense of pride when they do grown-up jobs and know their help is appreciated.

Self-esteem is central to individual happiness and success. Parents play an important role in helping children develop self-esteem, but experiences in school and with friends also have an effect. Remember that it is normal for children to go through stages of confidence and self-doubt. Show them that you see them as loveable, capable and responsible and help them live up to these qualities.

Source: Dr. Lynette Hockman, Parents Anonymous. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 91


Anna Steinkraus
Family & Community Development Program Coordinator
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated August 8, 2015