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The Informed Parent

Building Self-Esteem

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jan. 07, 2002

If you were asked to define self-esteem most likely your definition would indicate that it means how a person feels about him or herself. You might clarify that with the thought that when people have good self-esteem they feel positive about themselves. If they have poor self-esteem they feel negative about themselves. If pressed further about what good self-esteem means, you might find it difficult to elaborate.

Interestingly, most parenting manuals do not have the word self-esteem listed in the index. The suggestions that parenting books provide lead to developing what we consider to be positive self-esteem in children, yet the term itself is rarely used.

In order for a positive sense of self to develop in children a number of traits must become integrated. The first is self-regard. Children must consider themselves, their interests, and their skills to be of value. The second is self-respect. Children must think highly of their character. The third is positive judgment. Regardless of others’ opinions of them, children must hold a favorable opinion of themselves. The fourth is confidence. Children must feel competent in meeting the challenges of life. A final trait is competence. Children must feel capable in accomplishing the tasks at hand.

Self-esteem is a process of growth. The more a person experiences successes in various avenues of life, the greater the sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem is fluid. This means that a person rarely feels an equal sense of self-esteem in all areas or situations in one's life.

It seems clear that developing positive self-esteem is a lifelong process. Parents play the major role in starting the process in the right direction. Those children who feel positive about themselves tend to grow into adulthood refining and expanding those positive feelings.

Parents can learn to use skills that create the atmosphere for the development of positive self-esteem in their children. Practicing the skills so that they become a natural part of your parenting style assures your children that you love them, accept them and will be there to protect their safety and well being.

Be there for the long haul

Children need to know unequivocally that you are there for them, no matter what. This does not mean that you will accept inappropriate behavior. It does mean that regardless of the behavior, you can assure your children that you love them and that they can trust that you will not abandon them.

Be compassionate

Children who are not shown compassion do not have it to give. When you have the ability to be present with your children during their times of sadness and challenges, you assist them in knowing that they are valued and cared for.

Be acknowledging

The words you use have a powerful affect on your children. Choose words that acknowledge effort as well as accomplishments. Let your children know that you believe in their ability. Even when children don’t succeed as well as you had hoped, let them know that as a person they have not fallen in your estimation and that you appreciate the effort they have made.

Be willing to set limits

Children need limits to feel safe. They need limits to learn that they are effective individuals. When children learn to live within reasonable limits set by others, they learn to set their owe limits. This gives children a great sense of power and control over their lives. Most children learn that living within reasonable limits feels good. When children feel good about themselves and their lives, they also feel likable.

Be a role model

Children need to learn how to manage anger, resolve conflict, and deal with stress in positive and effective ways. They need to learn how to show and receive affection. They need to learn how to be a friend. Many children learn these life skills by watching you. Some need to be taught the skills directly. You do not need to be perfect. It is important that you become aware of your behavior. If there are behavior traits that you would like to change, take the necessary steps to do so. That, too, gives your children the message that it is never too late to learn to change behavior.

While we cannot teach self-esteem, we can provide the kinds of relationships and environments in our homes that lead to children feeling successful and good about themselves. This well being is what self-esteem is all about.

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