man thinks into the mirror

Jenny Mathews, contributing writer

Certainly one of the most gut-wrenching experiences of parenthood is watching your child suffer from a low opinion of themselves. Do you wish they could see themselves as you see them? Are you nostalgic for an easier time when you and your bright-eyed child were practicing saying “please” and “thank you” and
shoelace tying? Are you surprised to learn that even in teaching these small early skills to our children, there are opportunities to lay the foundations for a healthy self-concept, including high levels of confidence and self-esteem?

How important is it for our children to have a healthy self-esteem?

Neel Burton, MD, in an article for Psychology Today explained, “[Those with healthy self-esteem] do not rely on externals, such as status (popularity, appearance),…or on crutches, such as alcohol, drugs or sex. To the contrary, they treat themselves with respect and take good care of their health, development and environment. They are open to growth experiences and meaningful relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight,  accepting and forgiving of themselves and others.” Self-esteem is vital to the practice of good decision-making.

What can parents do to help children develop confidence and self-esteem?

It seems widely accepted that children are born with a healthy self-esteem that is either sustained or undermined as they develop. USU Professor Emeritus Jay
Schvaneveldt, PhD, explained that we cannot simply “color” or “paste on” self-esteem by showering our child with undue and condescending praise. Giving every child a trophy does not help their self-esteem. “Teachers, parents, religious and community leaders should do what they can to create a warm
emotional climate, treat all with fairness and promote human acceptance. But in that climate, we, in fact, build self-esteem by teaching and expecting that people will work and perform with dedicated effort.” This relates to what Dr. Burton said, “Whenever we live up to our dreams and promises, we can feel
ourselves growing. Whenever we fail but know that we have given our best, we can feel ourself growing. Whenever we stand up for our values and face the consequences, we can feel ourself growing… Growth depends on bravely living up to our ideals, not on the ideals of our parents’ praise, or anything else
that is not truly our own.”
More confidence comes as kids practice trusting themselves, and parents can help by setting the expectations and moral framework, guiding the child
through the challenges they face, and as those skills and aptitudes emerge, creating many opportunities for their child to be successful. Encouraging and supporting your children through both their successes and failures will assure them that their worth as your child and as a human is not tied tightly to the results of their efforts.
Of course you will want to praise your children, but it is wise to be careful, especially with young children. You don’t want to include labels that they would be likely to attach to themselves. For example instead of saying, “You’re so smart!” you would say, “You performed very well on this test!” or, “All that studying paid off!”
As if parents need another reason to be wary of social media and texting, experts like Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, a clinical psychologist and author
of The Big Disconnect, warns that there are too many traps online that threaten their self-concept and emotional well-being. She suggests putting off social
media and text messaging as long as possible. Let your child have time to form a healthy self-image and identify their values and ideals without any influence from the lack of a quick text response, “likes” or “re-tweets.”
“Self-esteem comes from consolidating who you are,” she said. The more identities you have, and the more time you spend pretending to be someone
you aren’t, the harder it’s going to be to feel good about yourself.