Self-esteem, in simple terms, is the way an individual perceives himself. It is also shaped by the perceptions of others who are significant in his life. According to a recent study by the University of Washington, a child’s self-esteem is already established by the age of five years. So, parents have the great responsibility of developing their children’s self-esteem.
Benefits of high self-esteem in children
Children with a high self-esteem feel they are worthy of being loved, accept criticism, and feel they are fundamentally deserving. They are less likely to stay in abusive or exploitative situations. They are able to identify and regulate their emotions in a better way than those with poor self-esteem. High self-esteem also strengthens their emotional intelligence.
A child with high self-esteem will see any challenging situation as a new experience and give it a shot. Even if she fails, her self-esteem will still be high, because she will lay more emphasis on the joy of participation, and won’t label herself a failure. On the other hand, a child with poor self-esteem will view the same situation as a threat, will succumb to the pressure, and perform poorly. This will further affect her self-image and finally lead her to label herself a loser.
High self-esteem helps children develop an optimistic attitude towards life in general. Such children are better equipped to deal with peer pressure and responsibility than those who feel bad about themselves. They will also be better able to cope with strong emotions, both good and bad, with challenges and frustrations. Also, self-esteem is directly related to a child’s ability to make friends, success in school, problem solving skills and overall confidence.
All the above qualities are traits that make an individual successful. Therefore, it is important for parents and caregivers to take appropriate steps to strengthen a child’s self-esteem early on.
To develop self-esteem, children should be exposed to age-appropriate experiences. They should be encouraged and taught to take responsibilities and to continue trying until they succeed. Determination and persistence will give them an idea about their capabilities.
Here’s a ‘To-Do’ list for parents to boost their children’s self-esteem:
- Have faith in your children.
- Give them choices.
- Encourage participation in several activities.
- Station yourself at a distance from where you can immediately reach out to them and thus reassure them of their safety without crowding them.
- Be proud of them and tell them so. This will help them become confident and capable.
- Always speak in a loving tone; react to issues in a positive tone.
- Spend time with your child.
- Let him help you with age-appropriate activities, and thank him for his help each time.
- If you see that your child is finding some task difficult, offer to help her. Inculcating a habit of collaborative work sends the message that seeking and offering help are both positive things.
- If your child fails in some task, explain the reasons for the failure logically. Tell him how and what he could have done better to get better results.
- Never scold your child in public.
- Bedtimes are precious. The thoughts in our minds before dropping off to sleep stay with us subconsciously. Give your child positive strokes at this time – a ‘Thank You’ note for God and a bedtime story with some values you want the child to develop are good ideas for bedtime. A goodnight kiss is important too, as it teaches the child the value of expressing love.
A word of caution
High self-esteem comes with a few negatives too. People with high self-esteem are sometimes prone to boasting and have a feeling of superiority. They might assume that their needs come first. Parents should ensure that their children don’t fall into this trap. First of all, they must practise what they preach, so that these negative feelings can be overcome by their children.
Self-esteem is immensely important for the overall growth, development and success of a person. If parents want to see their children develop as approachable, warm-hearted, optimistic, self-assured and secure persons, they should start working on developing their self-esteem early on.
Akanksha Deshpande is an Assistant Professor, Humanities Department, Shri Ramdeobaba College of Engineering and Management. (Autonomous), Nagpur. She is a Clinical Psychologist with hands-on experience in child psychology. She has worked as a Special Educator with Mother’s Pet Kindergarten, Nagpur. She is also a freelance trainer, and student motivator.