Enhancing Your Child’s Self-Esteem
A child’s knowledge about themselves often includes ideas such as “creative”, “artistic”, “tall”, “short”, etc. These ideas make up a child’s self-concept – “Who I am.” An important component of self-concept is self-esteem, which represents how we feel about or value ourselves. Self-esteem is important because poor self-esteem has been associated with low achievement, depression, drug abuse, susceptibility to peer pressure and delinquency. Although causal links between self-esteem and these problems are difficult to establish, many researchers believe that self-esteem appears to be a necessary (although not sufficient) condition for successful life adjustment.
The Development of Self-Esteem
Around the age of 8, children not only have a global sense of self-esteem, they also evaluate their competencies in five areas: 1) scholastic competence; 2) athletic competence; 3) social acceptance; 4) physical appearance; and 5) behavioral conduct.
In some instances, children are able to discount the importance of areas in which they feel less competent. For example, a child can indicate a low evaluation of his/her competence in athletic ability, but it will not negatively affect self-esteem because the child has discounted his/her performance in this area (“sports are not very important to me”). Therefore, low self-esteem is a result of a discrepancy between the importance of an area and one’s perception of competence in that area. A child who sees scholastic achievement as important will have low self-esteem if he/she is doing poorly in reading or math.
Research has also documented the importance of positive regard from significant others, primarily parents, peers and teachers, as a critical determinant of self-esteem. Positive regard can be unconditional; a child feels loved and accepted regardless of his/her ability or behaviors. However, positive regard from others is conditional when a child feels loved and accepted only when he/she meets the high standards of others. Conditional positive regard is devastating to self-esteem.
Characteristics of Children with Low Self-Esteem
The following behaviors may be indicative of low self-esteem:
Frequent negative self-statements (“I can’t”, “I’m not good at anything”).
A reluctance to learn new things or an avoidance of challenge. Children with low self-esteem may ask parents for help or refuse to do things by themselves.
Overreaction to mild anxiety-provoking stimuli such as time constraints, healthy competition, or constructive criticism.
Very reactive to the ups and downs of daily life. Failure can be devastating, even in minor projects.
What you can do as Parent to Enhance your Child’s Self-Esteem
Give affection and communicate love to your child often-not just when it’s convenient for you.
Have reasonable expectations for your child. Children are not an extension of their parents-they are unique individual. Have respect for individual talents and do not push them to be what they cannot or do not want to be.
Accentuate the positive. Give plenty of encouragement and show appreciation when possible.
Take a good look at your parenting style. Parents who are warm, accepting, concerned and affectionate often have children with high self-esteem.
Create a harmonious home through clear and fair rules, consistent and fair discipline. Allow opportunities to discuss disagreements with the family.
Be sure to encourage and support your children. Do not make support conditional on a child’s effort or behaviors. Make sure that your children know that you may be displeased or disappointed in a behavior but they can always depend on your love.
Let your child express himself/herself- allow them to share feelings without fear of reprisal.
Work on your self –esteem. Children learn from your actions.
Encourage children to develop a wide range of skills and hobbies that they can feel successful at. Remember that self-esteem is developed through evaluations of ability in several areas, not just academic achievement.
Submitted by Clarice L. Honeywell
Licensed School Psychologist
Portions of this article were reprinted with permission from the National Association of School Psychologists, “Helping Children at Home and School”.