Self-esteem is something that a person feels good about themselves, in another words, how much they appreciate their appearance, emotions, and beliefs for example. Nobody should underestimate the level of significance and importance of self-esteem in a child’s life, especially at early stages of development. Despite the implications of self-esteem, we see many parents under valuing (or not noticing) the importance, as low self-esteem can lead to serious consequences, for instance, hold your child back from succeeding at school or work, because they may believe that they are incapable of succeeding.
Parents therefore has a huge task in hand to ensure high self-esteem is encouraged and promoted on their children and the prominence is explained on a regular basis. However, theory is one thing and practicality is another. Remember that self-esteem is the result of experiences that helps a child feel capable, effective, and accepted.
So, as a parent how can we encourage and promote self-esteem?
- The first thing is to make sure your child is not stressed, down or unhappy. Unhappy child will struggle with the feeling of been proud of a job well done, or may not be able to think good things about themselves. Therefore, monitor your child’s psychological well-being on a regular basis.
- Inspire your child to do new things, and not to shy away from making a mistake, because that will become his/her greatest teacher. At every stage of life there are new things for children to learn, e.g. walking, talking, writing, reading, riding a bike, drawing, and the list goes on. Engaging in new activities without having to fear is tremendously valuable for self-esteem to form its foundation.
- Admire their success. It’s nice to praise your child, but it should be within reason, and not too frequent, as too much admiration can backfire. The importance is to show that you are proud of their accomplishment. For instance, last week (March 2018), my daughter scored 106 out of 120 for Mathematics reasoning test (by the way she is 10 years old). My expectation was somewhere around 110. I made her feel proud by saying how difficult and challenging “reasoning” is for a 10 year old child, and achieving a mark greater than 100 is marvellous. The objective was to work towards 110, and if I had constantly pestered her to achieve 110, and the outcome is less than that, this may send the wrong message and make her feel frustrated.
- Don’t be fixated on outcomes, instead applaud and praise efforts. As a nation, we are so much accustomed to targets. For example, percentage of students passing GCSE’s (e.g. English, Mathematics and Science); proportion of students getting A-C’s in A-levels; percentage of patients discharged within 4 hours of been admitted to Accident and Emergency, and the list could go on forever in the United Kingdom. This is where we get it wrong. Why just concentrate on metrics and outcomes? Why not look at the effort, progress, and attitude, and as an alternative, congratulate the effort, and identify ways of improving it. Suppose your child is learning the six times table, and as they are learning, you might want to say things like, “you’re getting better day by day, this is excellent, let’s keep practicing and when you’re ready we could then move on to seven times table”. Praise their effort and work towards the next goal. Make them feel proud, again, within reason.
- Children are not good listeners, they imitate their parents, so be a good role model. If you as a parent is a high self-esteemed person (e.g. feel proud of your achievements, feel prepared for every day challenges, and confident), then you’re setting a good example to your child. I often hear parents (particularly mothers) saying things like, “ohh I can’t do that, it’s too difficult”. The odd thing is, they haven’t even attempted it yet (say something simple as plotting a graph in Excel). There is nothing wrong with not been able to do something. The only trouble is, if this is the case for everything that’s a little challenging, then again, you’re sending the wrong message to your child. Lack of confidence and doubting the ability to do well leads to low self-esteem. I really like the following quote by John Wooden, “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating...too often parents neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life”.
- Don’t be too cruel on your child. Critical or harsh words like “you’re useless, lazy, you’re thick, dumb” can be very harmful, in fact demoralising and not motivating. I must of iterated basic aspects of Maths on many occasions (probably as high as 100), and my daughter still gets it wrong. Should I be very critical, and undermine her ability and knowledge? Of course not, she is still a child, and with practice she will eventually learn and perfect it. Negative messages (and thoughts) can be detrimental on kids and make them feel bad about themselves, again leading to lowered self-esteem.
- Concentrate on what you’re child enjoys, focus on their strengths rather than paying too much attention on weaknesses. Do not try to influence your child into something they have no interest in. Everybody is unique, and that applies to your child too. Just because it’s your child that doesn’t mean you have to like and enjoy the same thing. Give them space and the opportunity to explore what they like and dislike.
Let them focus on their strengths and build on that, be it dancing, painting, or singing. If they love outdoor activities, and wants to become a gardener/landscaper, there’s no point trying to influence and inspire other professions, typically a hospital consultant, an academic, lawyer, or high end financial adviser recommended by many parents.