We often look at children who are throwing temper tantrums, falling down on the floor with arms and hands flailing in the air as spoiled brats. Yes, and they may also be children who suffer from low self-esteem. While parents can’t indulge the child’s behavior, there are many things that can be done to build a child’s self-esteem. It has been shown that earning your child’s trust builds his self-esteem, and helps him grow to be a more trustworthy person as well!
As hard as it for parents to watch as difficult things happen to our children, we also realize that there are certain lessons in life they must learn in order to build their character. We watch as they fail certain tests in life, but at the same time realize that by failing they are winning; in terms of character building. It is the boy that breaks the heart of our 16 year old girl which teaches her what to watch for and be careful of in the future.
It is easy for a child to suffer with low self-esteem while going through the up’s and down’s, and hurtles of life. It is easy to intellectually understand that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and it is another thing to emotionally grasp the meaningfulness of it while it is happening, especially to the limited view of a child.
“One of the main jobs of parents is building and protecting their children;s self-esteem,” Says Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D, who studies how success is achieved. One of the ways we can constructively help our children, she advises is by helping them deal with life situations in a positive manner. It is more important to praise children for their efforts rather than for their victories. A child who is praised for effort will soon begin to look forward to challenges.
As parents, we often want to shield our child from every painful encounter, and every skinned knee but in reality we can not. So, often we will ignore the problem, or try and shift the blame, but in building self-esteem it is better to ask “What did I do this time that can be improved on for next time?” After all every mistake is a learning experience. Every time we teach our children to take responsibility for their own mistakes rather than shift the blame, the closer they are to learning one of life’s greatest lessons.
When my daughter asks me if I am disappointed in her because of a grade lower than an A, I always say “Of course not, I value you- not your grades. I just want you to do your best, and I love you and am proud of you no matter what.” I know that she values what I say because she trusts me. I shudder to think of the damage to our relationship and her self-esteem if I ever gave her any reason not to trust me.
Life is a series of learning experiences, or mistakes or whatever you want to call them, and this is how children learn. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb in one try, he failed at his attempts around 700 times. When discussing the amount of false starts he said “I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work.” By figuring out what wouldn’t work, he finally figured out what would. He didn’t give up, he realized the learning potential in our failures. In other words he learned how to turn failure into success!
Some ways to verbalize which keeps your child’s self-esteem in tact:
*”Hey, I can see you really made an effort but I notice there are some things you still don’t understand. What do you think you can do to get the help you need, so that you will better understand this?”
*”I know you feel bad that you didn’t win the Karate tournament, but you are doing something you love and that means a lot! Practice makes perfect, and you will get better as you keep practicing!”
*”Wow! That was an extraordinary challenge you took on! I am proud of you! You were brave to take this (project) on!”
*”You really prepared well for that demonstration and it was a hard topic, what did you learn from it that you might do differently next time?”
Successful people know how to handle their failures and deficiencies, and they know they need to take steps to remedy them. Rather than wallowing in self-pity at every failure, pick yourselves up and try, try again. Why is this important? Because your child learns by your example. They will learn these invaluable tools from you, which they can later pass on to their children. This is why success seems to run in families.
You also need to separate your own disappointments with your child’s disappointments. Your child is a unique individual in their own right with likes, dislikes and goals of their own. They will decide what is important to them, and remember in dealing with your child and their self-esteem it is about them, not you. If you notice that you are more upset about a “failure” of your child than she is, it is time to assess the situation.
Verbal affirmations are important. The way we talk to others can make or break trust and self-esteem. Learning to be kind and gentle goes a long way in building relationships, but other factors are important too. Making the effort to spend quality time with your child is of the utmost importance. One of the first things a child will know, though not consciously is that they are important enough to spend time with. They are valued for no other reason than that they exist, and you are honored that they belong to you.
While spending time with each other there are many opportunities that one might take to build self-esteem such as through positive affirmations, or by teaching something in a way which does not come off as a lecture. For example, if you are watching a movie with your teenager you can talk about the aspects of the movie, such as teen pregnancy.
The way to build trust is to not over react when your child discusses issues with you. Whatever it is, stay calm and just listen. Later, you can take opportunity in subtle ways to teach lessons on the particular topic at hand.
Other suggestions are:
*Don’t reveal confidences about your children behind their back to your girlfriends, or with the neighbors. If you are ever caught, it is a violation of trust. Speak positively of your children to others.
* Make them feel valued by focusing on the things they do that you are unable to do, such as having them teach you how to text for example, or how to run some other kind of computer program.
*Volunteer together. If you child loves animals, spend a little time each week volunteering at the local animal shelter.
*Share your child’s passions. If they love video games, play with them sometimes. If they love board games, the same goes. Don’t always demand that they should do what you want to do, do what they like to do…and watch them open up to you.
*Make a “date” with your child once a month. Go out to eat, and to the movies or to a play. Remember to keep fun night fun, keep the conversation light and don’t spoil it with lectures on homework or other issues.
*Spend a few minutes before bedtime in hugs and the affirmation of love. For younger children read a story, for older ones just talk a bit but remember:
1. you have about 60 seconds to hold the complete attention of your teen, don’t ruin it with criticism.
2. Be aware of your body language. Are your arms crossed, are you looking at them or away, are you giving them your full attention? They can read body language too.
3. 84% of teens say they would rather eat dinner with their parents than eat alone, so take advantage of this time.
4. Learn how to communicate effectively by asking questions such as “So how did that make you feel?” or “Why do you think he said that?” rather than making judgmental comments.
5. Don’t lose your children’s trust by lying to them about anything. Always tell the truth, peppered with tact of course. The building of self-esteem is closely linked to issues of trust.
If we begin while the children are young helping them build their self-esteem it will be less likely that they will have major issues with it when they are older. Helping our children to be successful human beings who benefit society should be one of our life’s greatest goals. For both trust and self-esteem it is easier to build than it is to re-build once it has been lost. It is through helping our children build self-esteem that we earn their respect and their trust, and as a reward a little sprinkling of self-respect will trickle its way to us, the parent as well.