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I know there is much debate among authors of parenting books (and therefore among parents) about whether self-esteem is real or not. No matter what name you give it, I think that children, just like anyone, have a perception of themselves. I also think that it is important to try to make that perception both accurate and positive. There is no reason for a person to have a negative view of themselves.
Parenting the Strong-Willed Child has an entire chapter dedicated to building self-esteem. Here are some thoughts:;
Forehand and Long talk about skill level. They say that self-esteem builds based on the child’s skill level and his evaluation of it. I believe that the child’s evaluation of it is key here. Some people think they are better than they are, while others never seem to be able to accept they are as good at something as they are.
While we want to raise children who are humble, I do think it is best to recognize and accept what you are good at. For one thing, from a religious perspective, refusing to recognize your strengths is essentially refusing to recognize the gives the Lord has given you. For another, the inability to recognize strengths can paralyze, or at the very least, slow down your ability to help where your skills are needed.
Forehand and Long go on to say that as the parent, you should help your child develop skills necessary to achieve the best of his ability. Focus on strengths. Minimize his weaknesses. Help him to feel good about his strengths.
It takes perceptiveness as a parent of young children to recognize strengths. I also think you need to be careful you don’t box your child into a stigma that isn’t necessarily true.
What about minimize strengths? I can’t speak to what the authors meant exactly. To me, that means for one, you help the child improve in that area so long as it is an area that is either needed or that he has interest in. If your child can’t find a beat but loves to dance, let her take dance. But if she hates it, don’t push it. Let her do what she is interested in. But maybe your child isn’t very good at being polite to others.
Among my children, Kaitlyn has this amazing ability for being a hostess that far exceeds my abilities. I am not exaggerating in the least. If you come to my home, it likely won’t even cross my mind to offer you food or drink, but it will Kaitlyn’s! I literally learn from her. She invites people in, invites them to sit, asks if they want a drink or some food…I don’t know where she gets it from. What a great talent! Brayden is more like me. So while this is a weakness of his, it is one I think should be worked on to become a strength (and yes, one I need to work on too).
Forehand and Long emphasize to allow your child to follow his interests, not yours. Did you always want to be first-chair in the orchestra? That doesn’t mean your child does. Let your child follow his dreams. Also, encourage your child to develop skills in areas he has a strong aptitude or ability.
Now, this can all get a bit tricky. I am of the belief that a person should strive to be well-rounded without running himself into the ground. My current game plan is that our children will be required to be involved in one physical activity and one musical activity. So they can do dance, sports, gymnastics, tumbling, track, etc. I think it is important to be physically active. I also highly value music, so I will want them in a musical lesson of some sort. These are things I will encourage, and yes, require. But the exact avenue they take in these areas is up to them.
If you are a praying person, I would highly encourage you to be prayerful that you will recognize you child’s natural strengths and weaknesses so you can properly assess each.
Offer praise and encouragement to your child for a job well done. Make them verbal and non-verbal. Pats on the bag. Verbal praise. Hang artwork. Something Forehand and Long say is to praise the effort rather than the outcome. “Wow, I can tell you worked really hard on this picture.” “You sure tried your best out there on the field!”
Limit the negative feedback you give. Many psychologists say to offer so many “good jobs” per negative comment. Forehand and Long say to offer 3-4 positives for every negative. Remember to say yes when you can, no when you must.
Avoid absolutes. “You always…” or “You never…” are not productive. “You always spill your milk!” or “You never put your shoes away!” Statements like these paint a false sense of reality and can make the person receiving this comments feel like there is no reason to put forth effort because the positive is not recognized anyway.
Encourage your child to have positive self-talk. When he talks about his abiltities, encourage him to talk positively.
Give your child responsibilities. He will feel good about helping.
Let your child make simple decisions, like what shirt to wear or which sippy cup to drink out of. You have to make decisions you offer age appropriate. Allowing for age-appropriate decisions shows your child you trust him, and it also helps him practice getting to know about consequences.
Allow your child to take some risks. Sometimes he might fail. I love the point from Forehand and Long that says that single failure does not have a negative impact on self-concept; repeated failure does. Children need to learn how to cope with failure. We can also learn a lot from failure. So step back and allow those consequences to come.
You have to be careful that you don’t demand perfection. No child is perfect. Encourage best effort.
Teach Problem Solving Skills
Teach your child to be able to solve problems on his own. This of course is easily achieved through independent playtime.
Teach Social Skills
Give your child chances to have social experiences as age appropriate. Make sure you are present as needed by age, also, so you can be there to observe and discuss things with your child.
Remember to give your child time and attention. Be accepting of your child. Show love. Keep your home a safe place. Your child gets enough assault from the world; make sure that you are one who shows him unconditional love. That doesn’t mean you never discipline or correct, but it does mean you are kind and show love at the same time.
This is a rough summary of one chapter in one book on building positive self esteem. There are entire books written on just one category (for example, The Five Love Languages of Children would discuss showing love to children (under give time) and The Parenting Breakthrough is all about teaching responsibility).
In the end, stay present in your child’s life, be prayerful, and show love and these things should happen naturally.
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