What names were you called as a kid? Probably every one of us can remember the hurt we felt, on at least one occasion, when a school aged child called us a name or said we couldn’t play with them. As a child, I had a little extra around my middle and I can remember being called fat. I had a friend with glasses that was called “four-eyes.” With sadness, I can even recall “going on strike” against another friend when he had done something my friends and I didn’t like. We simply refused to play with or talk to him for several days. On the other side of the coin, I can also remember sitting at lunch with a friend that no one else would sit by. One day at recess this friend was taunted by another classmate. The teaser said, “No one even likes you,” to which he shot back, “Andy does and I do.” I was glad I had treated him with kindness, but I was even more pleased that he could tell the bully that he liked himself.
If you ventured onto your child’s playground it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear insults or witness other acts of meanness. Kids and the world in general can be cruel at times. Not only do children deal with insults at school when no one is watching, but in today’s world they often carry bullies around in their pockets through electronic devices.
One of my favorite parenting quotes comes from L.R. Knost, who is currently courageously battling cancer. (Please visit her page and share your thoughts and prayers for her and her family.) The quote says…
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
Our kids will indefinitely experience their share of unkindness and trial. As parents we have a sacred responsibility to first, not contribute to the cruelty, and second, fortify them with personal strength and value. How do we do that? We help them build a foundation of self-worth and self-efficacy in the time we have with them.
Self-Esteem is a buffer of resilience against attacks on our kids
Self-esteem is an internal feeling of self-worth and an independent, positive sense of self. This mindset creates a buffer of resilience between your child and the struggles and even cruelty they may face. It also allows them to face the challenges of life and succeed.
Countless studies, books, and articles suggest that top leaders and successful people share the trait of “confidence,” or the ability to believe “I can do it!” The characteristic of seeing genuine value and believing in yourself is irreplaceable. Robert Reasoner, President of the International Council for Self Esteem, has stated that kids who feel good about themselves have higher academic achievements and better interpersonal relationships. They also have less criminal and violent behaviors, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, depression, and suicide.
Self-esteem is developed much like anything else in our lives. It grows over time. It’s not a shot in the arm, given along with other vaccinations. This internal feeling waxes and wanes as it is strengthened or weakened throughout life.
Healthy or Unhealthy Self-Esteem: What Does It Look Like?
Children with healthy self-esteem often have many varied interests and show interest in others. They are optimistic about outcomes. They do not degrade themselves or discount their achievements with words like, “I’m such a moron,” or “I never do anything right.” When they meet a challenge, they assertively seek help or engage their little engine that could… “I think I can! I think I can!”
Low self-esteem does not always look the same with every child, but often has similar themes. Research suggests that children with low self-esteem are often anxious, easily frustrated, pessimistic, highly critical of themselves, and struggle trying new things or interacting with others.
10 Things I Can Do!
- Never Name Call
Even sarcasm hurts. Words like “brat” or worse are sometimes used when children act out. Parents sometimes label kids according to past behavior. They call them a liar or brand them as “the obnoxious child.” Regrettably statements like, “Can’t you do anything right?” sometimes escape parents mouths. Separate the behavior from the child and recognize your child’s inherent value.
- Give Compliments
What others tell us about ourselves is a mirror. If I wake in the morning, I don’t know how my hair looks until I look in the mirror. In a similar way, children don’t know how others perceive them until they are told. Giving simple, true compliments can give your child a positive sense of self. This doesn’t mean that we fill every moment of every day with flowery, sugar filled meaningless statements of praise. Too many meaningless declarations of “good job” can make them dependent on outside praise for their personal worth. However, if we genuinely recognize strengths and give heartfelt compliments it helps them to solidify a positive internal mirror image.
- Encourage Your Child to Do Something
Encourage your child to do things that take significant time and effort. Encourage them to continue, even when things get hard, and praise your child’s determination in overcoming obstacles. Help them find hobbies and interests that build upon their strengths and challenge them.
- Promote an Optimistic Outlook
Be an example of the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Teach your child how to look adversity in the face and view it as a challenge, rather than a road block. Have a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.
- Be an Example of Humble Confidence
These two words are rarely used together, but they complement each other. Humility allows us to recognize our weaknesses and limitations, while confidence allows us to see our strengths and have an optimistic outlook. When they are in balance, we believe we can succeed, but know that we need help from God and others. The strengths of others are not a threat, but a support to us.
- Listen and Let Your Child Make Choices
When your child disagrees, listen to why he or she disagrees. Allow your children to make choices and even mistakes. This allows children to gain confidence by realizing they have the power in their lives.
- Foster Criticism Evaluations
Criticism can be constructive or destructive. Teach your children to recognize the difference. The innate reaction to criticism is to become defensive. Show your children how you accept criticism and turn it into personal growth.
- Love Your Children, No Matter What!
Try not to suggest that your love or acceptance is conditional. This does not mean we don’t enforce consequences, it simply means that our love and affections are not conditional.
- Play With Your Children
It has been said that “love” is spelled “T-I-M-E”. Your children need to know that they are loved. Let them know they are worth your time. Show interest in their interests.
- Get Professional Help If You Need It
Sometimes children suffer with mental health or developmental problems that contribute to low self-esteem. If you don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to ask questions and find a professional who can help meet the needs of your family.
Our kids are bombarded with messages about who they should be or how they should look and they often wonder how they can measure up. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are right.” Parents, you can be the ones to help your children know that they can do and be what they want to do and be. We can impress upon them in their youngest, most impressionable years that they are valuable and capable. If we bless them with this gift now, they will be strengthened to meet opposition to their self-esteem in the future.
What do you think are the most valuable things you can do to build your child’s self-esteem?