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Self-esteem matters

March 9, 2009

by Jenni Sebora

The other day, my 4-year old daughter, Delaney, was working on writing her numbers, and she announced, “I like being me. I am going to do it perfectly. No, no – no one can do it perfectly, but I am going to do it excellent. I made excellent 3s.”

Her words exactly. Those words were music to my ears.

As a parent, we want our children to feel good about who they are. Even as a preschooler, Delaney has developed those feelings of self-worth. And actually, it begins in infancy.

Babies learn early on that a cry or a smile will bring their beloved parent to them. When mom or dad comforts them or smiles back at them, babies feel good. And they begin to feel safe and important. When parents respond to their signs of need, they are being taught that they matter.

This continues on. What parents say or don’t say to toddlers and preschoolers will greatly affect them. Hugs, words of praise and encouragement, and criticism affect how they feel about themselves.

Research shows that how things work out for children is more dependent on their relationship with their parents than anything else.

Doctor Penelope Leach, in an article, “Bring Out the Best in Your Child,” tells us that studies show that if adults treat particular children as if they are cooperative, smart, and kind, the children will tend to live up to those expectations. And the opposite also will more than likely prevail. If children are treated as stupid, tiresome, aggressive individuals, they may act accordingly. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What we say and how we act toward our children truly matter. Success in school, getting along with others all depend on self-worth and confidence. Jan Gordon noted in an article, “Building Children’s Self-esteem,” that research also shows that a positive self-concept is more important to academic success than a high IQ score.

We also know that many children who bully others have a low self-esteem and do so because of their feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

If a parent yells at a child a lot and makes them feel ashamed and bad, he or she most likely will develop low self-esteem. A child does not naturally think that she is bad, stupid, ugly, or unlovable unless she is made to feel that way by those around her.

Each child is a unique individual and should be treated that way. Try not to compare a child with their siblings. Accept the child for what he is and what his interests are.

We also need to keep our expectations realistic for each of our children. We need to fit our expectations with each child’s age, temperament, and developmental level. If we are asking a child to do something they are developmentally not capable of doing, that may make them feel like they are failures and will feed into that sense of giving up, which also, in turn, can cause misbehavior.

We need to listen to our children and let them know that what they say matters to us.

Children also need to know clearly-defined limits. We need to stick to those limits, yet be flexible when necessary.

Giving children choices also makes them feel that their opinions matter. They are more likely to do what is expected if they have a part in the decision-making no matter how small. Give a child a choice between options that you can live with and are acceptable.

Of course, we need to spend time with our children. Jesse Jackson said, “Your children need your presence more than your presents.” Our children need our time. Connecting with our children is extremely important.

Show your children how much you love them. Tell them, hug them, and love them. Be there for them, physically and emotionally.

Some children’s books on self-esteem:

• “Clifford I Love You,” by Norman Bridwell

• “Incredible You!” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

• “Love You Forever,” by Robert Munsch

• “Whoever You Are,” by Mem Fox

• “Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn

• “A Pocket Full of Kisses,” by Audrey Penn