Kids and Self Esteem August 04 2008

Self esteem is a critical component of early childhood development.

Parents and teachers can have a large part in helping kids become self confident in handling conflict, resisting negative influences and thinking independently.

Children with low self esteem tend to feel anxiety and frustration managing challenges and learning at a steady pace. These children are less apt to be good at problem solving, persisting in successfully completing tasks and often become withdrawn and passive.

Read on to learn how you can help your kids or students develop healthy self esteem and self confidence from a young age through grade school and into their teen years, when self esteem becomes even more critical in helping them find their way in the world!

Defining Self Esteem

Self esteem is primarily about one’s self perception and belief in oneself, as well as how one relates and interacts with others. These feelings and perceptions largely affect a child’s attitudes, motivation and emotional behavior, patterns that start to form as a baby and especially during the toddler phase of early childhood.

Children’s self esteem increases when major milestones are achieved, like learning to use a spoon to eat versus the hands, or learning to use the toilet. Often these milestones are not reached in a single moment in time, but rather through learning by trying something, often failing, then trying again.

It will be quite normal for a child to sometimes reach a milestone only to revert for some period of time before completely mastering proficiency in new skills. The resilience and ability to learn from one’s mistakes and continue attempting to master a task, skill, etc. is a good sign of developing self esteem and confidence in the child’s own abilities and desire to persist in experiencing all the things that are new to him or her in the world.

When a child tries something and fails, yet proceeds to “get back on the horse again”, he or she gains self confidence and esteem. This is why it is so important for parents and teachers to encourage children not to give up, demonstrating patience and showing praise even when the attempt has failed.

Self esteem is also greatly impacted by a child’s interaction with others and having a strong sense of being loved. A child who succeeds in reaching key milestones and achievements can still experience low self esteem if he or she does not also have strong feelings of being loved by others. Parents’ consistent and wholehearted demonstration of love for their children is, thus, also extremely important in developing a child’s self esteem.

Indicators of Low or High Self Esteem

A child’s self esteem often reaches highs and lows, being affected by new experiences, perceptions and feelings. Both parents and teachers should look for indicators as to how a child’s self esteem is progressing.

A child who is fearful of trying new things may be suffering from low self esteem. If he or she often says things like “I’m just not smart enough”, “There’s not point to trying that” or “I don’t care about that so what’s the point?”; these could be signs that the child has low self esteem. Kids who suffer from low self esteem tend to stick to themselves and may exhibit a pessimistic attitude.

On the other hands, a child with strong self esteem feels comfortable interacting with others and participating in group activities. He or she looks forward to trying new things, even if not successful at first. These kids continue to try new things and will express when they don’t get something and need assistance. They demonstrate a generally optimistic attitude.

How Can Parents and Teachers Help Kids Develop Self Esteem?

Use care in how you speak to your child and remember that kids tend to be very sensitive to your words and actions. Praise kids not just for succeeding in endeavors but also for attempting, even when they fail.

Try to avoid phrases like “Well, you’ll just have to try a little harder next time”. It is always best to frame things in a more positive light; “You gave it your all and I’m very proud of you”. It’s best to reward the effort, not the outcome alone.

Be a positive role model. If you are excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your child may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your child will have a great role model.

Show kids your affection and tell them how proud of them you are. If you child insists he is not good at reading, try saying something like “You’re very good in school. We’ll work together on your reading. It is a hard thing to learn and will just take some more time”.

Teachers can also help by engaging kids in self awareness and self esteem activities in the classroom. The book “Me! Self-Awareness & Self-Esteem” provides many great developmental activities related to self-awareness, body image and relationships.

“Self-Esteem: Activities to Build Self Worth Grades 2-3” is another great book that provides tools and activities for teachers or even parents who want to encourage their children at home to become more self-motivated and resilient students.

Re-enforcing Positive Self Perceptions

You want to be sure that negative self perceptions do not take hold. Whenever you hear your child or student express self-criticism, it is worth taking a few minutes to help her set a more realistic and accurate self-perception, encouraging her and reminding her that she is a good student with positive re-enforcement.

When your child makes a mistake or demonstrates the wrong behavior, try not to make comments such as “You get so worked up” or “Why do you always do this?” Such statements only serve to give a child negative self-perceptions. A better alternative is to say something more along the lines of “You weren’t fair to your sister. I know you were upset, but please apologize to her.” This acknowledges your child’s behavior and encourages him to make the right choice.

If you are consistent in showing your child how much you love her and provide a positive role model, she will internalize feelings that she is loved and that you care. Positive self esteem begins in the home, where a child who feels safe and nurtured is far more likely to build positive self esteem.

Teachers and parents should be on the watch for any child who makes statements about an unhappy home life as these are very strong indicators of a child who may be suffering from abuse, neglect or otherwise may not be getting enough attention and positive re-enforcement necessary to build healthy self-esteem and confidence.

As children progress into the later school grades and stages of childhood development, more direct attention may be required. Kids become naturally more apt to express feelings of not wanting to try new things or using excuses like “I’m just no good at math” or “I hate everyone!” A good book for teachers working with grade level 4 and 5 kids is “Self-Esteem: Activities to Build Self Worth Grades 4-5”, which offers teachers lesson plans and activities to help students develop skills in self-management, decision-making, communication, goal-setting, self-reflection, and cooperation.

Getting Professional Help

If, as a parent or teacher, you suspect a child is suffering from poor self-esteem, professional help is available, whether through a school counselor or private practitioner, who can help uncover the reasons a child may be feeling bad about herself or himself.

Counselors can also help coach parents in providing positive role models and nurturing a child’s self esteem. Remember that just as children’s self esteem is subject to highs and lows, so it is with parents as well. If you child is experiencing poor self esteem, it can also begin to affect your own as a parent, so seeking professional guidance may help put you both back on the right track!