Parents have an intuitive awareness that making their children feel good about themselves is, basically, the same thing as raising a child with high self-esteem. Why does this seem so important? To esteem something is to value it. We want our children to value themselves for several reasons: to be capable of meeting life’s challenges and to feel worthy of being and feeling happy. It is equivalent to an inoculation.
Children will have bumps if they have high self-esteem, but will be inoculated from many significant life-altering difficulties. Studies indicate children with high self-esteem fare better with challenges of drugs, depression, education and sexuality. How, then, can reality-based self-esteem be fostered? It boils down to two major categories: respect and affirmation.
Be present and interested. It takes intentionality to turn off the phone and just be with him. Doing so makes him feel he is important. If you were to go to an interview and the interviewer read her iPhone after you started speaking, you would likely feel she was not interested.
Show interest in his interests. Whether you play together with toy trucks or look at his art, show him he is interesting and you enjoy his company.
Speak and act respectfully. Ask yourself if you’d like to be spoken to in the same way. This doesn’t mean you treat your children as adults, because developmentally they aren’t. Saying “please” and “thank you,” giving them time to make decisions, allowing them to “smell the flowers” as they walk, asking for something instead of snatching it from their hands are small, but significant ways to show respect. It also models the way they and others should be treated.
Daily parent/child conversations. Take time for daily reflection. Talk about her accomplishments and challenges. It is good quality time that shows interest and teaches good coping skills.
Reinforce efforts, not just external things. Your child won’t always win the prize, but if reinforced for internal efforts, you give a lifelong gift! She’ll value herself. Make it clear all of her work made her comfortable doing the recital piece, not just that she aced the recital piece.
Empathize and normalize “hurts.” Children need to know life has challenges and they can handle them, with support. Help them cope with these challenges. For example, “I’m sorry you are sad. What would you like to do differently next time? What might make you feel better?”
Teach and enforce healthy decisions. Explaining and reinforcing your values shows you want the best for them and know they are capable of being their best. Regarding consequences, it has been said, “It’s better children cry now than you cry later.” The language component comes in here, too. If an unhealthy decision is made, you can say, “You are so good at using your words. I’m sorry to see you push Charlie. We have to take a time out,” instead of, “Bad boy!”
Teach healthy relationship skills. Friends will soon replace you as the most influential people in their lives. Observe interactions with peers or listen to what they tell you. Ask how these interactions feel. Talk about healthy or unhealthy things you may notice and check it out. Brainstorm together some ideas about how to deal with it. A good template for healthy peer relationships guides them well through their next stage.
Pride time at dinner. Each family member mentions at least one thing about the other family members of which he is proud. This can be done daily or weekly.
Display work. Showcase their work. They are stars at home for their hard work.
Date nights. Regular alone time with each parent strengthens the relationship with individual children.
Express their value to them. As often as you genuinely can, point out their positive qualities and tell them you enjoy them. Note how your child worked so hard at his painting and you really like playing with him.
Being a parent is the most demanding, important and rewarding job there is. Please also make time to take care of yourself!