Self-esteem is the real magic wand that can form a child’s future. A child’s self-esteem affects every area of her existence.-Stephanie Martson
After many years of working as a teacher and through my experiences as a mother and foster parent, I’ve learned there is a direct and very significant correlation between a child’s behavior and their perception of self. For some of our most troubled children, underlying the undesirable behaviors we see is an abundance of negative feelings the child has about themselves.
So, what is self-esteem, and how can this one thing be so important for human development?
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is all about self-perception. It’s about being able to like who you are. With positive self-esteem, a person will feel that they’re of value. They will, therefore, be more likely to make choices and decisions that allow them to explore their full potential. Such people are persistent in striving to achieve their goals and aspirations.
Those with low self-esteem are generally less happy, less persistent, and less resilient when it comes to overcoming adversity. Low self-esteem results in a person being less motivated to achieve their goals because they feel unworthy or are afraid to fail. This is something I see all the time with foster children. Unfortunately, these feelings can hide behind some pretty extreme behaviors that are in most cases a self-defensive mechanism.
In simple terms, self-esteem relates to how a person feels about themselves, and their beliefs will impact significantly the way that person thinks and behaves.
Why is self-esteem important for children?
The most basic task for one’s mental, emotional, and social health, which begins in infancy and continues until one dies, is the construction of his/her positive self-esteem.-G. McDonald
Children who have a positive sense of self are more confident and feel liked and accepted by others. They believe in themselves, which means they’re more likely to take risks with their learning and challenge themselves with more ambitious goals. Children who have high self-esteem tend to do better in school and at home and are far more likely to sustain positive friendships.
Children with low self-esteem are generally a lot more critical of themselves and feel that they’re not as good as others. They tend to focus more on their failures rather than their successes and lack the confidence to take risks. Such children are warier of others because they feel like they won’t be accepted. Therefore, they have more trouble developing and sustaining positive relationships.
Low self-esteem often means that children give up more easily or are fearful of making a mistake, so they might choose not to try at all. Basically, low self-esteem will get in the way of a child being able to learn and realize their full potential in all areas of their life. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help a child build self-esteem to develop a positive sense of self.
Developing positive self-esteem
Building positive self-esteem begins very early in life. Developing a secure attachment to caregivers as an infant will have a profound impact on a child’s self-esteem as they grow older. Feeling safe and loved will provide a solid foundation for their feeling comfortable to explore their world. Knowing that there’s a person close by ready to help and offer support will instill confidence and encourage a child to take risks. Risk-taking is an important 21st-century skill, and it’s necessary for our next generation to be creative and innovative thinkers.
In addition to developing secure attachments, a child will be building on their positive sense of self-esteem each time they:
- Learn something new
- Achieve a goal
- Make friends
- Help and show kindness to others
- Engage in activities they enjoy
- Feel like others understand them
Developing positive self-esteem will ensure that a child feels like a capable and competent individual with a strong sense of belonging in the world. A growth mindset is the result of a postive sense of self-esteem, and children with higher self-esteem are far more likely to see mistakes as opportunities for learning rather than as direct failures.
Confidence-building experiences for children
There are many ways in which parents can help their children build self-esteem. How we communicate and interact with children will impact how they learn to see themselves as people in our world. Supporting, encouraging, and empowering them will go a long way towards helping them view themselves as unique and wonderful individuals capable of great things, now and into the future.
Here’s how you can support your child in developing a sense of self-worth:
- Praise their efforts rather than specific qualities. When we acknowledge and praise a child’s effort, progress, and attitude, we encourage them to work towards a goal and to understand that success comes with persistence and diligence. If we only praise their successes or results, we teach children that their value is tied to winning and achievement, which can be damaging for their willingness to take risks.
- Focus on your child’s strengths. When we pay attention to the things a child does well and enjoys, we help them feel good about themselves.
- Be a positive role model. When adults are seen putting effort into everyday tasks, they set a good example for their children. By completing tasks without rushing and having a positive attitude, you’ll teach your child to take pride in the jobs they do and perform their tasks with enthusiasm.
- Be careful with your words. One of the most damaging things to a child’s self-esteem is negative words and messages about themselves coming from others. They will translate these into negative feelings about themselves.
Helping children build a positive sense of self-esteem is a wonderful gift that will go on to benefit not only them but all of humanity.
Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your handbrake on.-Maxwell Malts
Be your child’s biggest cheerleader and help them remove that handbrake so that they can become the best possible version of themselves. The future will certainly thank you for it.