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Promoting Genuine Self-Esteem In Your Child

Apr 12, 2008
Promoting self-esteem in children is an ongoing process for parents. By adding just one word -- genuine -- the focus is sharpened and the process is more clearly defined. Genuine self-esteem is based on true worth and accomplishment, whereas 'inflated' self-esteem, the opposite, results from heaped on, baseless praise. Promoting inflated self-esteem is easy. Promoting genuine self-esteem requires a little more thought and planning. Here are three big steps parents can take to facilitate the process: Accept, Support and Respect. As the first two are closely related, we'll discuss them together.

ACCEPT and SUPPORT.

Accept and support your child. As a parent, you are your child's most important significant other. More than anyone else, you help to establish how your child feels about himself. School personnel, family, and peers have some influence on your child, but yours is the most important. So, how do you help him feel good about himself? By genuinely accepting and supporting your child for whom he is. Here's how.

* DO let your child know you think he's great. Self-esteem grows through your words and actions. Use language that will build his self-esteem: "What a great idea!" "I'm proud to be your mom/dad." "I can depend on you." And, be sure your actions support your message.

Children use us as mirrors. If we think and convey to them that they are wonderful, they will think and believe that they are wonderful. If we think and tell them they are stupid, they will think and believe they are stupid. Our children internalize our words and actions.

* DO accept your child's inherited physical endowments. Nobody, thank goodness, is physically perfect. So encourage your child to accept his or her physical appearance. Children are acutely self-conscious about their physical selves -- a girl might be embarrassed by her large nose, a boy about his pimples. Your child might even hate the very qualities you find adorable -- his big ears, or her curly hair -- so convey your acceptance of his or her physical endowments. You might be quite proud of your child just the way he is. But does your child know this? He needs to, even when nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Remind him every day that you support him, and show him the same through your actions.

* DO be open and available. Are you approachable? When you are working at home, watching television, or doing housework, is your body language telling your child that you don't want to be bothered? Or are you showing her that you will listen if she has a problem? Of course, there are times when you are doing something important or taking care of your own needs. You can't be accessible twenty-four hours a day, and you don't have to be a problem-solver all the time, but you do need to be someone your child can count on to talk to when the need arises. It will help her just to know you're there, ready to listen and not judge. If a child perceives that a parent is too busy, disinterested, or annoyed to hear her, then her problems, no matter how trivial they may seem to adults, may overwhelm her.

* DO recognize and applaud effort. Did your child bungle an art project? Miss a ground ball in a baseball game? Spill a mixing bowl while trying to make cake batter? You know that the effort he puts into the activity is far more important than the success or failure of it, but he probably doesn't know that. So tell him! Even better than saying, "That's okay, it's the effort that counts," would be to say, "I'm proud of you for trying to make a cake; most kids your age would never tackle that. And you got the ingredients just right!" or "I can see that you threw away the art project you started. I'm sorry you didn't like it. But I'm proud that you took on such a difficult task."

* DO be receptive and helpful with your child's personal problems, and seek help from professionals when appropriate. It takes only a few minutes each day to ask how your child feels and then listen attentively to what he or she says. Instead of asking general questions about school activities, for example, you could try drawing out your child to see if there are any personal problems you are unaware of. So instead of asking, "How was school today?" you might ask, "Was school better today? Yesterday you said that your teacher kept you in during recess. Did you go out today?" If the answer is yes or no, try to ask more leading questions, such as "What changed today that made things better (or worse)?" and then continue from there. Or, instead of asking, "Did you do your homework?" try asking something like "You said last week that you had a history report due. How is it coming?" If it seems that things are not going well, you may want to offer help or suggest some alternative strategies such as after-school assistance or engaging the services of a capable teenager or professional tutor.

* DO offer opportunities to pursue individual interests. Your child can't find areas to explore her individuality if she is not exposed to different activities. When notices for clubs or sports leagues are posted or handed out in school, encourage your child to enroll if she shows an interest. And get her presents that suit her interests. If she is interested in building, why buy her dolls? Children are often scared to try new things. By encouraging (but not forcing) them to try out new activities, we can help them discover areas in which they may express their individuality.

* DO encourage your child to evaluate the opinions and values of others instead of submissively adopting them. It's a sign of low self-esteem when a child accepts without question other people's ideas and values. Encourage your child to weigh each situation instead of mindlessly going along with the decisions or opinions of others. At the same time, encourage him to seek support for his own ideas. This way, your child will learn to determine whether or not a value or opinion is of worth to him, and thereby gain power over his own decisions. This will help his self-esteem as a child, and will serve him well when he is older, when more potentially damaging ideas (such as drug use, sex, or prejudice, for example) will be presented to him.

RESPECT

Let's turn to the third step, respect. Respect your child and she will learn to respect you. This old tale, "The King and His Sons," says it well.

One rainy day, the king took a walk with his two children. He held an umbrella in each hand to cover and protect each child. A bystander approached and said, "Why are you protecting your children from the rain? You are the king! They should be protecting you." His highness sagely replied, "If I do not show them respect, how will they learn to respect me? How will they learn to respect others? How will they learn to respect themselves?"

When children are treated with respect, they learn to respect themselves and others. So treat your child as you expect to be treated. Respect that is genuine, and not simply permissive, promotes self-esteem. It satisfies your child's esteem needs. It makes her feel important -- that you hold her in high esteem, and that you value and respect her as a person.

There are many ways you can show your child respect through your actions and words. Here are some important things to keep in mind.

* DO NOT berate. Berating a child models negative behavior; it does not help her to learn, and it shows her total disrespect. For example, a parent who is helping a child to study for a test might make such berating comments as, "We just did this! What are you, stupid? You're just not paying attention. Now pay attention!" By the end of the session, usually the child is crying and the parent is screaming. And the child may be heard the next day yelling at her classmate, "What are you, stupid?"

* DO NOT be sarcastic. Sarcastic remarks are transparent ways of putting someone down, and if directed toward your child, she'll know it. Many parents don't realize that the processes of growth and change take time, and their own frustration causes them to resort to sarcasm. But if you show a lack of respect for your child, she will feel unworthy and less motivated to succeed.

* DO ask your child to do grown-up tasks. There are many opportunities to do so. Asking him to do one at a critical time in his development may be a memorable gift you can give to him. At that moment, he has your respect and trust; he is someone. For example, when the need arises, ask him to answer the phone for you. Even if he forgets to write the person's name next to the number, let him know that you appreciate his help. Next time the situation arises simply remind him to write down both the name and number. This way, he'll learn the same lesson without feeling like a failure.

* DO control your anger. Whether over homework or other issues, many parents become so angry with their children that they end up physically or verbally abusing them. When you get angry at your child, keep this in mind: If you respect someone, do you hit him? Do you curse at him? Do you insult him? Whenever you use physical force or verbal attacks against your child, you show a blatant disregard for his rights and teach him that this is the proper way to express anger and settle disputes. You teach him that it is okay to act on his feelings, when in fact it should be your goal to teach him to think first, and think clearly, before he acts.

* DO be sure your child is being treated respectfully at school. Not only is it important for you to treat your child with respect; it is also important to be sure that your child is being treated respectfully at school.

As your child's number-one advocate, be sure she is treated respectfully, both at home and at school. For the most part, teachers and other school personnel are wonderful, hard-working people who care about education and children. But sometimes they too need to be informed. If you see that your child is not being treated with the respect she deserves, call her teacher. Chances are he or she is unaware of your child's problem and will appreciate your call.

* DO respect one another. Within a family, parents and children need to strive to develop a mutual respect, which in time extends beyond the family. This is an ongoing process which involves parental role modeling (and usually an endless supply of parental patience and self-control).

Respect is often tested when children slip-up. How parents deal with these slip-ups delivers long lasting messages. Better than flying off the handle on the one hand, or merely shrugging the incidents off on the other, is for parents to deal with each situation, and those involved, in a respectful manner. This involves looking into the causes behind each situation, exploring options, and discussing alternative actions the child could have taken -- in other words, maintaining respect. Therefore, when your child experiences some trouble in school, before you begin yelling or punishing, think about what you want to teach her.

In conclusion, in that you as a parent are your child's most important significant other, you more than anyone else help to establish how your child feels about himself. If you genuinely accept, support and respect your child, and show it through your words and actions, then you are sowing the seeds of genuine self-esteem.

(Originally published at StrongLearning website and reprinted with permission of the authors, Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. and Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D.)
About the Author
Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. and Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D. are the founders/directors of STRONG Learning Centers in New York. They've written over 40 books and developed 20 phonics games for children of all ages. To learn more about the Silberts and the STRONG Method, visit their website Our Educational Books. To subscribe to their free e-zine, send a blank email to: subscribe@StrongLearning.com.
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