by By Cynthia Ladson
One of the keys to raising a happy, well-adjusted child is nurturing his or her self-esteem. What follows is an interview with María del Carmen Mejía, a local clinical social worker with Clarity Child Guidance Center. In addition to her duties as a social worker, Mejía teaches a series of parenting classes annually at the center. One of the classes offered is “How to Nurture Your Child’s Self-Esteem.”
Q What is self-esteem?
- I don’t think there is any one definition of self-esteem. There are many aspects to self-esteem. It encompasses self-acceptance, self-respect, feeling loved, having worth, having confidence in ones self and viewing ones self as an equal to others.
Q How can parents nurture their child’s self-esteem?
- There are a lot of things parents can do to nurture their child’s self-esteem. I group these in three categories: 1) Make sure the child feels loved and accepted, 2) Allow kids to develop unique goals, ideas and decisions on what they want in life, and 3) Give them freedom to make responsible choices to achieve success.
Category 1: Make Sure the Child Feels Loved and Accepted
- Know your child for who she is,
- Know that your child is an unique individual with her own ideas, goals and dreams,
- Differentiate your child’s needs and feeling from your own,
- Acknowledge a child’s uniqueness as an individual and then enable her to learn what she can offer the world. Stated another way: What is special about her?
- Make sure she feels heard, understood and empathized with even if you disagree with her,
- Acknowledge that her ideas are worthy of attention,
- Listen to and respect her goals, decisions and dreams,
- Make sure she feels successful based on her own definition of successful.
Category 2: Allow Kids to Develop Unique Goals, Ideas and Decisions on What They Want in Life
- Praise effort and give plenty of encouragement. Believe in your child,
- Acknowledge that her ideas are worthy of attention,
- Help create situations in which your child can experience success. Provide lessons or opportunities where she can develop a sense of accomplishment,
- Acknowledge and recognize your child’s successes and the things that are important to her. For example, if you like tennis, but your child doesn’t and prefers reading, recognize and celebrate her achievements in reading.
Category 3: Give Kids the Freedom to Make Responsible Choices to Achieve Success
- Assign meaningful and appropriate tasks to do. This helps children feel capable and develop a sense of accomplishment,
- Have reasonable expectations for your child and help her set reasonable goals,
- Encourage your child to deal with choices responsibly. For example, when it comes to discipline, make sure your child knows she made the choice to disobey or misbehave, and in doing so she must accept the consequences that go along with the decision to misbehave.
Q What are some of the characteristics that may be exhibited by a child with little, no, or poor self-esteem?
- One characteristic of a child with low self-esteem is reluctance to take risks. Some other examples could be:
- Shying away from peers,
- Being easily frustrated,
- Demeaning his or her own talents,
- Continually putting himself or herself down,
- Putting on a façade of high-self-esteem possibly by bullying others,
- Becoming defensive because he cannot accept feedback,
- Over-compensating by constantly placing self on a pedestal and putting others down,
- Being easily influenced by peers and wants approval of the group, and
- Giving in to peer pressure.
Q What are some of the characteristics exhibited by a child with a high-level of self-esteem?
- Some characteristics that may be exhibited by a child with a high-level of self-esteem could include:
- Willingness to take risks; not afraid of failure because he understands that he or she learns from his or her mistakes,
- Knowing he or she cannot be perfect,
- The ability to laugh at himself or herself when he or she blows it,
- Complimenting others easily,
- Recognizing his limitations, but having an expectation to grow and improve, and
- The ability to resist peer pressure.
Q Why is self-esteem important?
- Self-esteem is important because the way people relate to themselves impacts the way they relate to the world.
Q All caregivers, not just parents should be concerned about a child’s self-esteem. How can parents be sure that a caregiver is nurturing their child’s self-esteem? What characteristics should they look for in a caregiver or teacher who will nurture their child?
- Look at how the caregiver talks to your child and how they relate to him. Does the caregiver provide children with opportunities to learn, grow and develop new skills? Does the caregiver teach and model? It’s very important to look at how they talk and relate to kids. n
Cynthia Ladson is the editor of Our Kids Magazine and the mother of one daughter.
25 Ways to Help Children Like Themselves
Local clinical social worker María del Carmen Mejía with Clarity Child Guidance Center leads a series of parenting classes each year. She shares these 25 parenting tips with students in a class on building and nurturing a child’s self-esteem.
- Be a good role model. Let your children see that you feel good about yourself.
- Give affirmations every day, both verbal and non-verbal smile, display their artwork, etc.
- Emphasize the positive things children do each day, not the negative.
- Praise effort by giving plenty of encouragement. Believe in your children.
- Give each child some one-on-one time every day; a story, a back rub before bed, time to listen to their day, etc.
- Take children’s feelings and thoughts seriously; never belittle them. Listen and empathize.
- Help children understand their own feelings and acknowledge that we do not all have the same feelings.
- Assign meaningful and appropriate tasks to do. This helps children feel capable and develops a sense of accomplishment.
- Help create situations in which your children can experience success. Provide lessons or opportunities where they can develop a sense of accomplishment.
- Recognize the uniqueness of each child, expressing your love and acceptance “just for being you.”
- Have reasonable expectations for your children and help them to set reasonable goals for themselves.
- Set limits and give boundaries; this helps children feel safe and make sense out of their world. Define rules clearly and enforce them consistently.
- Spend time together; participate in shared activities together.
- Treat your children with respect.
- Show children how much you care for them by giving hugs, winks, smiles, and telling them how much you love them.
- Discuss problems with your children without using judgment or blame.
- Talk to your children about their activities and what is important to them. Show them you are interested in them by attending their games, social events, award ceremonies, etc.
- Be available. Be someone your children can count on for support when they need it.
- Have a family special plate or placement to be used on special occasions and days of special recognition.
- Keep photo album on each child; look through it with your child occasionally.
- Make a periodic video recording of your children.
- Use humor in a note to remind your children of a chore, etc. “The health inspector will inspect this room at 4 p.m. today.” These clothes do not have legs and feet and I don’t expect them to grow any in 24 hours. Please help them out by putting them in their drawers.”
- Leave notes for your children in secret places for them to discover, giving encouragement, expressing love, etc.
- Write thank you notes for a gift received or a job well done. Read them to your children if needed.
- Give some undivided attention to your children’s play once in a while. This might be the only setting in which some children feel confident. Parents can play a part in creating opportunities for children to do their best. “I really enjoy coloring with you.” “The fort you made is a great place to hide.”