Building Self-Esteem in Your Child

One day, when our youngest son was twelve, I entered his bedroom to find him drawing a large cartoon mural from a Calvin and Hobbes book on the wall with acrylics. Although he had only been working a few hours, the major characters were completed and just the background needed to be added. My first mental reaction was, “Oh my goodness, he’s ruining the walls in his room!”

Fortunately, I caught myself in time and realized how much self-esteem and confidence it must have taken to attempt such a creation. Now, years later, that son is an industrial designer. I know that his ability to create and design is due to those early attempts which helped foster this confidence, something I nearly smothered with that first unspoken impression.

I believe that building children’s self-esteem is a process. It takes time to get into the habit of constantly thinking, “Why is my child doing what he is doing? What does he really need? How can I create situations so that he can find a better way of handling his feelings? How can I adjust our family routine so that each of us can be at his best?”

Parents need to remember that each child learns and develops at his own pace, but there are specific times or “significant moments” in a child’s life when he needs certain direction, skills, attention or encouragement.
The first significant moment is during infancy. At this time he needs a lot of physical contact. The baby then quickly learns to respond to the contact he has with others.

The second is usually between one and three where he is beginning to make independent decisions. Choices become valuable ways to help him accept suggestions, yet still feel good about himself. For example, “Do you want a cheese sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly one?” Although still under your control, the child feels that his decisions count. If he learns the natural consequences to his actions, he learns to abide by rules.

Another significant moment is between four and six, when he needs more independent thinking opportunities. At this time he likes the security of favorite activities repeated such as a story time, etc. While reading a book together, he is ready to be asked, “What do you think will happen?” Creative activities will also help his self esteem.

If a child has enough successful creative encounters—socially, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and physically—he will enter school with a good self-image. So just how do you do this?

Remember the following:

  • Be positive – don’t use negative comments; respect your child.
  • Believe in your child so he can believe in himself – play down mistakes; communicate confidence.
  • Focus on his assets and strengths – although helping him do things that are difficult is important, don’t forget to emphasize what he does well.
  • Recognize his effort and notice his improvement – reward positive behavior on the part of the child.
  • Encourage rather than praise – praise is a reward based on competition, for winning. Give encouragement for effort or improvement.

Without fear of rejection, he learns the best ways to cope and how to feel comfortable with appropriate behaviors. When a child is learning through the satisfaction of positive interactions, instead of negative punishments for misbehavior, he begins to internalize values and standards more quickly and gain a positive self-image and self-mastery.

As we recognize him as a worthwhile human being, the child can develop his true potential and become a successful adult.