Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself. It includes such things as your self-confidence, self-respect, pride in yourself, your independence and your self-reliance. All the ways you feel about yourself and your abilities are wrapped up in the term "self-esteem".
In general, the more positive your self-esteem, the more successful you will be at dealing with life. The same holds for your children. The more positive their self-esteem, the more confident and proud they will be. They will try harder, be happier and have greater self-respect. They will make friends easier and will be more giving. Children with positive self-esteem are more secure and loving than children with negative self-esteem.
Negative self-esteem is related to low self-confidence, insecurity, underachievement, anxiety, depression, acting-out behavior, sleep problems and being a loner.
As a parent or a teacher, you have a great influence over the self-esteem of your child. For the first 4 or 5 years, parents are the most important contributor. When children start school, teachers and friends become important. Once they reach adolescents, peer groups begin playing a greater role in steering your child's self-esteem. The more positive their self-esteem was before adolescents, the easier it will be for them to resist negative peer group pressures.
Here are some things you can do to build your child's self-esteem:
1. In general, the more positive the parents self-esteem, the more positive the child's will be. Be a good role model. Start by building your own self-esteem. (See my article: Boost Your Self-Esteem)
2. Honest praise is the quickest way to build a person's self-esteem. Find someway to praise your child every day. Make sure the praise is realistic and honest. When possible, praise yor child for trying to do something even if he/she was not successful. If need be, give your child a task you know can be completed just so you can give the praise. As your child's self-esteem grows more positive, this process will become easier and more natural.
3. Focus on the positive aspects of your child's behavior. Even if you don't like some of the behavior, find someting positive to focus on.
4. Put a picture of your child with family members next to your child's bed. This is a subtle reminder to your child that he/she has family support and they are not alone in the world. Yes, many children really do feel that way.
5. Communicate with your child. That means listening to how your child feels without making judgments about those feelings. Try to find out why they feel the way they do. Once you know why, you may be able to offer a different interpretation so the child's feelings can change. Regardless, do not judge the feelings. They are just there. How your child reacts to these feelings are important because behavior has consequences. If you listen and understand, you are better able to suggest behaviors that will have positive consequences rather than negative ones.
6. Keep criticism to a minimum. Criticism does not produce positive behavior. Praise does.
7. Show your child there is a way they can control their feelings. When your child is feeling bad, play this game with her/him. Close eyes and remember something from the past that was fun and imagine or visualize that it was still going on. After 2 or 3 minutes, your child will begin to feel better. Explain to your child that this is something they can do anytime they feel bad because they are in control of how they feel.
8. Teach your child to set goals, follow through and complete projects. The projects can be small and short in the beginning and then get more involved. This builds self-confidence and self-esteem and shows children they have some control in their life. Make sure the project is age appropriate and not too complicated for your child's level of development. Remember, the purpose is to allow your child to experience success. Give praise often during the project as well as on completion. Each positive event in your child's life is building a more positive self-esteem.
9. Remind your child to think positive thoughts by putting notes around the house with smiley faces drawn on them.
10. Say "I love you" and mean it, everyday. Children need to hear it often, especially when it seems like they don't deserve it. When things are going badly, keep in mind that it is their behavior you don't like, not them. Hearing it is powerful but written reminders are also good. Slip a note with "I love you, Mom/Dad" into a coat pocket or lunch bag. It won't be long before you start to see some positive changes.
11. Positive Word Exercise. How do you want your child to feel? Happy, confident, calm, peaceful, smart, hard-working, cooperative, etc. Cut pieces of colored paper and write each word on a separate piece and then put up around the house or the child's room. This is also great for the classroom. Each week, change the arrangement of signs. These words become silent reminders to your children of what is expected and how they can be.
12. Teach your child to say and do good deeds. It builds good character and produces positive feelings within the child. Twice a week, have your child select someone they know who they will say something nice to and someone else they know who they are going to do something nice for. It makes no difference how small or trivial as long as it's something nice. Follow through with your child to make sure it was completed. Each week, try to help your child pick two different people from the friends, relatives and schoolmates she/he knows.
13. When your child is feeling down, help your child write a letter to a make believe child who is having a bad day also. Let your child give the other child advice on how to feel good. Many children will discover that they need to take their own advice. As they write the letter, their negative feelings will begin to lift. Only give as much help as is really needed. The best results will come as the child does the mental and emotional exploring.
14. Teach your child anger control. Building self-control can be a major source of pride for your child. I'll be addressing anger management, in length, in a future newsletter article but for now, here is one technique that works at all ages. Anger is a right brain response. If you teach your child to do a left brain behavior as soon as the anger is felt, the anger starts to go away. It is an automatic response. The quickest left brain activity you can teach a child, or adult, is to count to 10, or 100, or to whatever it takes. The old advice of counting to 10 when you felt angry works and now we have the scientific evidence as to why.
15. Once a day, have your child stand in front of a mirror, smile and give herself/himself a big hug and say "I love you. You are a good person." This is a good idea for a quick pick-me-upper for you, too.
16. Have your child write a name poem and then post it where it can be seen often. A name poem starts with "I am" and then under it go his/her name, one letter per line, and finishing with the last name. For Mary Jones, it would look like:
M - - agnificent
A - - ble
R - - espectful
Y - - our friend
The first letter is used to make a positive description of the child.
You now have 16 techniques you can use to build a strong, positive self-esteem in your child. Use the techniques that work best for you. Not all techniques are appropriate for all age groups. Trial and error will be your easiest way to find the ones that work best.
Dr. Yarnell has produced 2 CDs that will help your child.