Our self-esteem is basically how we feel about ourselves – it is an assessment of our self-worth. And how we see ourselves has a big impact on our attitudes, beliefs and motivation to do things.
A child with a healthy self-esteem will feel good about himself and will be more adept at handling conflict situations and resisting peer pressure. He or she will feel optimistic about life and will view challenges as opportunities to try new things and master new skills, rather than insurmountable problems.
At what age does self-esteem begin to develop?
Self-esteem begins to develop very early in life. When babies’ needs are met, they begin to feel that they are important to others and that their wellbeing matters. As children grow older, they will start exploring ideas and reaching conclusions about themselves. With each milestone they reach or new skills they master, children experience a sense of accomplishment, which boosts their developing self-esteem. But self-esteem may also fluctuate while children are growing and it is also affected by their experiences and perceptions. When children fail at completing tasks or experience setbacks in achieving their goals they might suffer a blow to their self-esteem. Temporary fluctuations in self-esteem are not worrisome, but parental involvement is key in ensuring that a child does not consistently suffer from low self-esteem and to help the child establish accurate self-perception.
Here are some things that you can do to help boost your child’s self-esteem:
- Simply touching your child in a gentle and loving way will help her understand that they are important to you. Whether it be a massage at nappy-changing time, a hug, a pat on the head or simply putting your hand on your child’s shoulder – try to touch your child every day.
- Listen to your child. In our fast-paced, work-oriented society we often expect our children to wait while we complete our work before we make time to listen and talk to them. But doing this too often may make your child feel that he does not feature high on your priority list.
- Distinguish between what your child does and who she is. Focusing on your child’s behaviour rather than attacking him as a person will help you to discipline and guide her behaviour while preserving her self-esteem. Say things like: “What you did was naughty” rather than “You are a naughty boy (or girl)”.
- Give your child ample opportunities to do things by herself. This will help her become competent in interacting with her world and she will begin to experience herself as competent problem solvers.
- Be sure to give praise where it is due and acknowledge your child’s successes. However, while we all enjoy the social recognition that comes from being praised, be careful not to overdo it. When children feel they receive false praise or praise that was not necessarily earned, they may begin to doubt your motives. They might experience you as someone who will praise them regardless of their actions and begin to think of themselves as incompetent.
- Encourage your children in their efforts. Often, encouraging your child while she is engrossed in a difficult activity can mean much more than praising her after the fact. Say things like: “Good, you’re on the right track … now just a little more.”
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