Wouldn’t it be exceptional if every child would grow into a confident adult who was proud of himself? If at the birth of every child, the parents could approach a vending machine and pick out the character traits they want for their child?
“Brown eyes, sturdy tooth enamel and powerful leadership skills would be perfect!”
Since we’re not that evolved, we must rely on parenting skills to build self-esteem through all developmental stages.
Importance of good self-esteem
“Usually when we say (developing self-esteem), we mean how the children feel about themselves and their ability to do things they are asked to do,” says Julie Boydston, a licensed psychologist at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
Often families reaching out for help for their child ask how to better their child’s self-esteem.
Boydston says, “Children who have good self-esteem are better at accomplishing tasks, interacting with others and handling stressors in their lives.”
Parents contribute to child’s self-esteem
It’s not always fair to blame the parents if their child has poor self-esteem. However, according to Boydston, “Parents can play a large role in establishing positive self-esteem, right from the beginning.”
She says, “The best kind of parenting throughout a child’s life has a combination of warmth and structure.”
Infancy: The way a parent reacts to their infant is key to growing a confident child.
“Being able to respond and read cues when your child is hungry, tired and scared can help babies learn the world is a safe and predictable place,” says Boydston.
Toddlers: The personality of the child begins to show at this stage. Toddlers strive to perform tasks which were once done for them by the parent.
“Parents’ patience and understanding are important,” says Boydston. “Even though parents know toddlers can’t do everything for themselves, giving them a little space for this independence can do wonders for their self-esteem.”
Love and Logic, a parenting model developed in 1977 by Dr. Foster Kline and Jim Kay, suggests presenting the child options.
“One of the most powerful strategies for avoiding power struggles involves giving choices within limits. It’s all about sharing control. We can either share control by giving small choices …or wait for our kids to fight us for it over big issues,” say Kline and Fay.
School-age: This is when outside forces may attack a child’s self-esteem. They are interacting with new people and children. Bullies and other peers may begin to damage their self-worth.
Praising this age group is beneficial to building confidence. Telling the child you are proud of them for attempting something challenging is as important as when they do well with little effort.
Routines are important at this age, so “they know what to expect and when things will happen,” says Boydston. Maintaining mealtimes, a homework schedule and bedtime gives children security and comfort.
Teens: Adolescence routinely challenges a teen’s self-esteem. Teenagers are critical of themselves. It is such an ego-centric time of their life, which can make communicating with them a challenge.
Independence is a constant battle between teens and parents. Adolescents developmentally need to spend much time with friends instead of their family. Yet they need to know while they are away, they are missed by the family and are always welcome to join the activities.
Peer pressure can challenge any adolescent if they aren’t properly trained what to say when offered drugs, alcohol or sexual advances. Helping the teen have a collection of “appropriate answers” will help them feel in control in difficult situations.
Can We Talk?
Lynisha Thomas, a social worker for Lawrence High School, says there’s a program that builds self-esteem for Lawrence teens, called Can We Talk?
“It reaches at-risk kids of all backgrounds; teaching them about different cultures, and being more comfortable in their skin,” says Thomas.
Presently 80 students are involved with Can We Talk.
Do they need professional help?
If your child appears depressed, doesn’t find joy in activities they normally like, grades are suffering, they’re “acting out” at school and/or at home, or if they talk of hurting themselves or others, it’s recommended to seek professional help.
The American Psychological Association (APA) says, “Ask your child’s physician or another health professional. Ask family and friends. Contact your area community mental health center. Or, use the Psychologist Locator Service on the APA Help Center, www.apa.org.