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The Informed Parent

Nurturing Self-Esteem

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jan. 02, 2006

Self-esteem, or how one feels about him-or-herself, is a subject that concerns parents and teachers. Many families and most classrooms have a child or children who do not have positive regard for themselves. These children may be poor students, usually have social problems, and often carry victim-like attitudes.

Parent education programs and teacher workshops give suggestions on how to raise a child's self esteem. Parenting magazines carry articles on the topic.

One of the first statements in the book Underachievement: Reversing the Process by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S. and John H. Samson, M.D. says, "No one can motivate another person. Motivation has to come from inside one's self." The same can be said about self-esteem. Parents, teachers, and significant others in a child's life can create the physical and emotional environment that is most likely to result in positive self-esteem. The child, however, is the one who is ultimately responsible for his feelings about himself. No one can give self-esteem to another.

Parents express sadness when one of their children doesn't feel good about himself. I have heard parents say, "We've tried everything. I don't know how we could do more to let him know how loved and important he is. He still has such low self-esteem." Sometimes this happens. Like Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh stories, some children seem to live under a black cloud.

As discouraging as this is for parents and teachers the challenge is not to give up providing the necessary nurturance and respect that lead to greater feelings of self-worth. Of equal importance is not getting hooked into the belief that the child cannot change.

One of the goals of misbehavior is a display of inadequacy. The child's faulty belief is that he belongs only by convincing others of his helplessness. The parent feels hopeless and wants to give up. The tendency is to agree with the child that nothing can be done.

When the parent attempts to convince the child that he is worthy and capable, the child responds passively or shows no response. The cycle of helplessness and hopelessness goes into gear, and a downward spiral is created for both child and parent.

There are steps that parents and teachers can take to change this cycle. They create the best opportunity for a child to move toward seeing himself as a worthy, capable human being who belongs by contributing, cooperating, and taking self-responsibility.

  1. Stop all criticism.
  2. Show love and appreciation by smiling, hugging, and speaking in a positive manner.
  3. Show respect both at home and in public.
  4. In each activity, acknowledge small steps toward success.
  5. Provide individual time each day where the child chooses an activity for you to do together. This can be as short as 10 or 15 minutes. It does need to be a time when your focus is on what you and the child are doing together.
  6. Teach the child organizational skills such as how to manage his homework or clean his room.
  7. Teach responsibility by requiring task completion.
  8. Encourage independence.

Moving from feelings of unworthiness to positive self-regard takes time. Progress does not move in a straight line. Sometimes it may seem as if no progress is taking place. It may appear that the child has regressed. This pattern is normal. The most important thing parents and teachers can do is to remain consistent and not give up.


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