The most important gift you can give your child is the gift of self esteem.
Self-esteem is how you rate yourself deep down. It is a belief and a confidence in your own ability and value. It’s a gentle knowing that:
- you like yourself.
- you think you’re a good human being.
- you deserve love.
- you deserve happiness.
- you feel deep down in your inner knowing that you are an OK person.
However, where does this ability come from?
I believe it initially comes from you – your child’s parent – as you are the first role model for your child and you play a major part in developing, nurturing and building your child’s confidence, their self esteem and, in the long term, their self belief.
I see your job as a parent similar to being a gardener – where you sow seeds of confidence through nurturing, watering and feeding your growing child’s self esteem through the words that you use, the actions that you take and the love and encouragement you give.
We are all born with our own personality traits, but it is not so much who we are when we are born that counts, but who we are encouraged and allowed to become.
Did you know on average, we have 90,000 thoughts a day and 60,000 of those are repetitive? So teach your child to think positively about themselves!
What can you do as the parent of a young child to begin this very important process?
The first place to start is to develop a strong healthy self image in your child because from that solid foundation, every thing else in life will become easier and more straightforward. Your current self-image is the result of the repeated messages and instructions you received as a child from your authority figures i.e. your parents, family, teachers and other influential adults and peers in your life.
What you do, say and how you act really matter.
A useful attitude to adopt as a parent is one of “awareness parenting”. By this I mean being constantly aware of the bigger picture. It’s the destination of your parenting – the nurturing of the unique, happy, confident and well balanced adult that really matters.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind doesn’t always come naturally to many people and by thinking about what you’re doing doesn’t take away all the fun and spontaneity from your parenting – it just changes your perspective. If you are a thoughtful parent, you are nurturing self-esteem all the time and influencing how your child views themselves for the rest of their lives.
I think a great question to ask yourself quickly in any situation is: Is this bringing me closer to or further away from the relationship I want with my child?
Help your child feel special and appreciated.
One of the main factors that contributes to your child becoming resilient and confident is by you focusing your energy on your child’s strengths and not constantly picking up on their weaknesses.
Young children are learning and developing their skills all the time – they need your patience and understanding when they make mistakes and get things wrong and you are teaching them that it’s OK to make mistakes along the way to learning a new skill.
One way for you to do this is to set aside “special times” during the week when you are alone with each one of your children, as this develops a real bond between you both. It’s a great idea for you to say to your young child: “When I read to you or play with you, I won’t even answer the phone if it rings” so they get to know this is their special time with you and it won’t be hijacked by anyone or anything else.
Also, during these special times, focus on things that your child enjoys doing so that they have an opportunity to relax and to display their strengths naturally and easily with you and when you praise them do it specifically.
Many parents just say “that’s lovely” when looking at a drawing or a painting or piece of school work but building true self esteem comes from being very specific in your praise and saying something like “I really love the yellow you chose for the sand in your painting it really reminds me of the beach on holiday and look you even remembered to put in the red boat we saw.” Children then feel you are really interested in what they are doing and they feel really valued for their efforts.
Help your child to develop their problem-solving and decision-making skills.
High self-esteem is associated with solid problem-solving skills so encourage your child to “struggle” with their laces for a little bit longer or with doing up their coat buttons or trying to manipulate something. It builds up persistence and tenacity and they learn to develop a wonderful sense of achievement when they have achieved it for themselves. Be guided by your child’s age and personality but by developing their independence you give them a great gift.
Avoid comments that are judgmental, and instead frame them in more positive terms.
One simple exercise that I do with the parents I coach is to get them to stand on a piece of paper marked “My child’s point of view” as this helps them view the world from the perspective of their child’s shoes and socks and it can be really illuminating!
Get a piece of paper and write on it and try the exercise. Imagine the world from your child’s point of view – what do they see, what do they hear, and how do they feel? Really relax and imagine it – if you don’t like what you discover don’t beat yourself up just make a few small changes this week that will make a big difference in the confidence of your little one.
Be an empathetic parent.
Many well-meaning parents, out of their own frustration, have been heard to say such things as: “What’s the matter with you, why don’t you listen to me?” If your child is having difficulty with something, think of some new ways to encourage them. What could you do differently that you are currently doing to support them and to let them know you are alongside them and to acknowledge that you understand their emotion, frustration or fear?
Provide choices for your child.
Providing small choices between two things really helps your child develop a sense of control over their lives and builds their self confidence. This will also lessen power struggles and tantrums!
For example, ask your child if they would like to wear their green jumper or their blue jumper for today. You still maintain control by making sure they are wearing a jumper as it’s cold outside, but they feel they have made the choice and feel grown up and this helps to set the foundation of feeling in control of their lives.
Highlight your child’s strengths.
Always be on the look out for ways to praise what your child is good at – helping others, painting pictures, doing jigsaws, kicking balls, or being cheerful. Make a list of what your child is good at and find ways of praising them. For example, if your child is a wonderful artist, display their artwork in the kitchen and change the pictures regularly.
Have expanding expectations and goals for your child.
The development of self-control goes hand-in-glove with self-esteem, and realistic expectations provide your child with a sense of control and can take away undue pressure when they are small. However, don’t limit or put a ceiling on what you think your child can achieve as that creates a limiting belief within them as they feel that they can’t ever achieve something above your expectations of them. Just be mindful of their age, skills and dexterity and let them explore their own potential.
Treat your child with respect.
Your relationship with your child is the foundation of their relationship with others. If you treat your child with compassion, kindness and respect, they will grow up to be concerned about others, caring, considerate and respectful towards others too.
Respect is the key energy of a good family, as it brings everyone together. It creates a strong family unit that can handle whatever challenges are thrown at it like divorce, bereavement, redundancy or any of life’s ups and downs. When a parent shows respect and unconditional love it creates trust and the whole family learns this culture as well.
So if you are being a respectful role model your child will respect you and learn to respect others and most importantly will learn to love and respect themselves – the key cornerstone in self esteem, self belief and self confidence.
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About the author
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
T: + 44 1342 833355 M: 07740 622769
Surrey RH7 6LF