What is Self-Esteem?

What is Self-Esteem?





And How Can My Child Get Some of That?

There are many gifts we would love to be able to give our children, but self-esteem is one of those we can’t just wrap up with a bow and hand over to them. We have to create environments where their self-esteem can grow and flourish. I guess why they call it “self”-esteem.

It was saddening the other day to hear a young girl at the library tell her mom, “I stink at this. I never get the right answers and I’m too stupid to figure it out.” I couldn’t help but wonder how this young girl got to the point where she saw herself in such low terms. And then I heard the mom reply, “It’s OK honey. Not everyone can be smart at everything. You don’t need to finish it right now.” The “it” appeared to be homework, and the answer to my wondering was right before me. Kids think less of themselves when we reaffirm their worries and give them permission to fail – even when we are trying to be supportive.

What is Self-Esteem?

There is a great definition I once found in this little, inconspicuous spiral-bound book called, Your Child and Self-Esteem – Helping Children Respect Themselves and Others. “Self-esteem is the consequence of how we cope, what we believe, how we were raised, and most importantly – how we live.”

Self-esteem is about more than kids just feeling good about themselves. It is about them actively being good – to themselves and the world around them. It is the difference between being egotistical and being self and community-aware. Children who have positive self-esteem are more likely to be able to use their talents, abilities, and resources to fulfill their own goals and contribute to their surroundings. Their families, communities, schools, and employers all benefit, for even though self-esteem is an individual concept, it is what gives kids the skills to overcome obstacles and persevere.

How Can I Help My Child Build Self-Esteem?

There are expectations all around our children, from floods of almost unachievable body images in the media, to academic pressures, to family dysfunctions that lead to emotional stressors. All of these impact self-esteem.

The Parent Club Handbook develops what it refers to as a three step process for helping children build self-esteem.

  1. Parents work to create an environment where physical, emotional, and intellectual needs are met with safe and loving reactions, and where kids have plenty of opportunities for challenges and success.
  2. A child must be allowed to try and fail – all on his or her own.
  3. Parents need to encourage their children’s efforts and love them when those efforts fail (especially when those efforts fail).

Much of what this handbook proposes falls in line with unconditional parenting, and some of it probably makes Alfie Kohn cringe, especially the parts about praising and rewarding efforts. Even though I find myself somewhere in the middle of these parenting philosophies, there are definitely merits to the strategies that the Parent Club Handbook suggests we employ to help our children build self-esteem. Among these includes a great discussion about the connection between the relationship between self-esteem and our self-control.

The more conflict there is between our morals and our behaviors, the more our self-esteem decreases.

The handbook suggests the mirror test. Stand in front of a mirror and ask, “Do my choices and how I treat others reflect my values?” For kids this exercise can be simplified into, “Am I acting like a person I would feel good about and want to spend time with?” The morals and values we demonstrate for and teach our children about impact their self-esteem.

It is so vitally important that our kids learn to love themselves, and they learn to do that when we give them their first lesson in unconditional love – that between a parent and a child. As our children grow, we can do several things to give them the tools for healthy self-esteem.

Give them our time. Time to read together, listen to their silly stories, and support their interests show them that we value them and they are worth value.

Help them find their passions. Once they are passionate about something, give them tools to further pursue their passions. Don’t worry if their passions are not your own – this isn’t about your claim to football fame or your want to raise an artist.

Find their love language – how they best express and receive your love. For some kids it is physical touch, and for others it is by spending extra quality time with you.

Forgive your children and ask for their forgiveness when you do wrong.

Let them fail. We can’t raise children who are strong enough to overcome obstacles if we just lower the bar. Their self-esteem will actually improve when they figure out for themselves how to fix or solve a problem.

Find ways for your child to contribute to your family. This might be through sharing a passion for cooking and making Saturday breakfast with you, or a green thumb and the desire to grow some veggies for the family. Family contributions make us feel connected – something kids yearn for as they grow.

Find ways for your child to contribute to the community. When we feel we are a part of something bigger, we see beyond ourselves and truly develop a “whole” perspective.

Listen to your child. Even when you have a million things running through your brain and on your plate, take the time to listen to their stories and questions. You will show them that they are worth the time – because they really are.

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