When a child has a healthy sense of self-esteem, he understands his own strengths and weaknesses, is eager to try new experiences, and is social, making friends easily. A child with negative self-worth feels he has no value to himself or others. He is defeated before even trying new experiences. Patterns of self-esteem start to develop early in life, so parents should provide ongoing activities to help their children cultivate self-respect and confidence.
Children like to remember enjoyable activities they’ve shared with parents. These memories help build self-esteem. Help your child reflect on a positive experience by creating a visual, suggests Kate Roberts, a psychologist in Salem and South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He can cut out pictures from his own collection and supplement with pictures from magazines. His finished collage should be hung on his door or wall. Just having an adult’s attention and doing an activity together is positive in itself, Roberts says. Your child might also enjoy creating a collage that reflects his strengths.
When a child creates a gift for someone less fortunate, the experience gives him control and power, Roberts says. Do a craft project with your child and arrange for him to give it to a sick or underprivileged child. This can be something as simple as painting a shell with pretty colors. You can have your child join you in the kitchen to whip up a favorite dessert for a sick or elderly neighbor or relative. This boosts his self-esteem because it involves contributing and giving back.
When you show children their own abilities, it builds their self-esteem. Play a game of “What If?” with your child, suggests Deborah Gilboa, a Pittsburgh physician. Pick a scenario and ask your child a hypothetical question about what he would do. “What would you do if you were shopping and your friend stole an item from a department store?” Praise his ideas in finding a workable solution or his honesty if he’s not sure what to do. When your child comes to you with an actual problem, show empathy and faith in his problem-solving ability, says Gilboa. Say, “That’s a tough situation. What do you think?” He’ll soon develop the confidence to handle most problems on his own.
This activity will encourage your child to think happy thoughts. Help him create an “I Like Me” notebook, suggests Alyssa Slansky, a marriage and family therapist in Long Island, New York. Buy your child a notebook with a blank cover, and encourage him to decorate it in a way that makes him feel good. Each night, your child can write a few positive things in the notebook that he experienced during the day. For example, he might write: “I had a fun day at recess” or “I made my bed by myself.” He might enjoy adding pictures. The entries should be written nightly and then shared with parents.
The way to help a child build self-esteem is to provide plenty of opportunities to try and succeed on his own. When parents do things for children that they can do themselves, they stifle their children's growth, development, confidence and self-esteem, according to Anastasia Gavalas, a family life teacher in Bridgehampton, New York. Let the baby feed himself and hand the toddler a cleaning utensil when he wants to help out with chores. If you promote independence, your child will gain a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Remain flexible. Ask questions before hastily saying "no" to your child. He should be allowed to communicate and process his ideas without judgment before making decisions.
- Kate Roberts, Ph.D.,Licensed Psychologist; Salem and South Hamilton, Massachusetts
- Alyssa Slansky, M.A., LMFT; Marriage and Family Therapist; Huntington Station, New York
- Deborah Gilboa, M.D.; Family Physician and Parenting Expert; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Anastasia Gavalas, MS, SDA; Family Life Therapist; Bridgehampton, New York
- KidsHealth for Parents: Developing Your Child's Self Esteem
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