How to build healthy self-esteem in a child
What influences the way our life is shaped and the successes we achieve in it? We have our abilities, personality traits, upbringing, environment, goals, and much more. But perhaps the main factor that determines our future accomplishments, “programs” us for prosperity and happiness is our vision of ourselves and what we think about ourselves, i.e., our self-esteem.
Often all this is formed at an early stage of life when we are just beginning to realize ourselves and the world around us. And since self-esteem plays a significant role in everyone’s life, it is an essential part of a personal formation that should not be neglected.
Self-esteem and its role in our life
Self-esteem is a person’s understanding of himself, his qualities and feelings, and personal evaluation of his strengths and weaknesses. It is also an awareness that his personality and actions in society are important.
There are three of the most important functions of self-esteem:
- It allows us to regulate our behavior and make our own decisions.
- It protects us by keeping our personalities stable and independent.
- It encourages us to develop through assessing our behavior and comparing it to other’s assessments of us.
Then there are other functions of self-esteem that are also a powerful stimulus for personal development:
- Emotional: it helps us to feel satisfied with our qualities.
- Signaling: it shows our real attitude toward ourselves.
- Adaptational: it helps us to adapt to the environment.
- Corrective: it allows us to regulate our behavior.
- Motivating: it encourages us to act in such a way as to receive praise.
- Retrospective: it makes it possible to evaluate our activity and behavior in the end.
Healthy self-esteem goes hand in hand with confidence which is a vital personal quality. What does it give a person? First, a feeling of happiness. Those who have low self-esteem are prone to constant self-criticism and doubts about their actions.
The role of self-esteem in child’s development
The influence of self-esteem on a child’s life is difficult to overestimate. It practically forms the basis of personality. The child’s activity and desire for self-improvement depend on self-esteem.
A famous psychiatrist, Eric Berne, claimed that a child’s self-esteem is flawless at birth, but it undergoes many changes over time. If these changes are positive and the child’s self-esteem is adequate, his life will work out well in the future.
Self-esteem is a complex psychological system. A child is born without any idea of how to behave or established self-esteem. The combination of mental processes, effects, and activities allows a child to explore and distinguish himself as part of the larger world.
A child’s attitude toward himself consists of three key factors:
- His achievements: “what I can do” and “what I do well”.
- The evaluation of his personality and appearance by others. A child is guided by the experiences of the people around him and how they assess him. Besides, children’s self-esteem features are directly influenced by relationships with parents and other significant adults.
- His individuality. It is an important feature that determines how important is quality or action to the person in point.
What affects the formation of self-esteem in a child?
The process of child development and self-esteem formation is divided into two periods: preschool and school.
In early childhood, the circle of communication is usually extremely narrow. So the most influence on a child has his parents’ attitude toward him and the feedback he receives from them. A kind of filter is created in mind through which later a child will perceive any situation. When parents express their love openly to the child, respect and praise him for his achievements, he will positively perceive himself. Low self-esteem results from neglect and dislike during the first years of life.
Since a child has little contact with peers, he does not fully understand what he does well and not that well. That is why it is considered normal when a child comes to school with somewhat inflated self-esteem — it is not a problem, but rather a feature of this age.
Then, when the child goes to elementary school, the formation of self-esteem continues through different types of interaction with adults and other kids, and it is connected to self-monitoring and self-control. He begins to compare himself with others, gets feedback from peers and teachers.
So at this point, it is normal that his self-esteem drops a little and actually becomes more adequate because now it is based on experience. Games, activities, and communication constantly create situations in which he has to look at himself, evaluate his skills and ability to follow the rules, show the necessary qualities of personality, and meet various requirements. That is why the “charge” a school teacher gives is so important: is he criticizing or praising the children. It can have a long-lasting effect on kids’ lives.
Range of self-esteem
Self-esteem can be one of three levels: low, adequate, and overestimated. Or even mixed.
Low self-esteem and its indicators
A person with low self-esteem is inclined to often criticize himself even when it is inappropriate. Also, usually, he has a painful reaction to criticism from outside and tends to please others to increase his self-value.
What are some possible indicators that your child may have low self-esteem?
- Pay attention to the child’s appearance. A sleazy, slovenly look can be the first sign that he has a low opinion of himself.
- Is he social enough? Does he avoid social activity or communicate little with friends?
- Observe him while he is interacting with others. Children with low self-esteem talk in a quiet tone of voice, have slurred speech, use groveling intonations too often, and have a habit of apologizing for their actions for no apparent reason. Also, when speaking, they usually avoid looking at the interlocutor. They slouch excessively — it is a subconscious desire to be unnoticeable. They may always sit on the edge of a chair.
- Take a note of how he completes tasks and faces challenges. If he leaves tasks unfinished or does not even try to do them, quickly ends the game, admitting defeat at the slightest failure, this often indicates that the child feels defenseless in the face of difficulties.
- Your kid can make excuses and downplay the importance of events (“I don’t like this game anyway”) to shift responsibility to others or circumstances.
- A decrease in performance at school or a loss of interest in his usual activities may signal that he has problems dealing with setbacks.
- The child’s mood changes frequently; he has sudden outbursts of tears.
- Aggression can be a sign of low self-esteem as well. Lack of self-confidence generates distrust in others, and being rude is a defense reaction.
- The child is easily influenced by his peers and does not know how to stand his ground.
Some consequences of low self-esteem are:
- a feeling of guilt,
- lack of confidence in one’s abilities.
With such a set, it is extremely difficult to succeed in life. A person with low self-esteem seems to live his life for others or just pointlessly.
It is important to note that teenagers tend to have low self-esteem, and this is the feature of the age. They tend to exaggerate and invent body flaws, to reflect on the frailty of existence. Altogether, their emotional background is more depressive than positive.
Too high self-esteem and its signs
Exaggerated self-esteem is connected with the exaltation of oneself and one’s own merits, inadequate estimation of one’s importance, and so on.
These are some typical signals and consequences of an overly boosted self-esteem:
- thinking you are always right despite logical arguments;
- narcissism, arrogance;
- pride and inability to forgive;
- persistent desire to compete, turning everything into a rivalry;
- constantly talking about oneself;
- willingness to speak and not being able to listen.
At the same time, slightly too optimistic self-esteem is not always a negative phenomenon. A person with inflated self-esteem can be both overconfident, which is bad, and driven, which is good. When it is based not only on imagination but sustained by real qualities and successes, it can bring luck and help make things go your way. When a person is driven, he believes in his strength so much that he gets a fair share of motivation and even luck which contribute to the success in whatever he undertakes.
Another point to keep in mind is that excessive external self-confidence in behavior, oddly enough, is a disguise for low self-esteem. Usually, it is accompanied by a desire to “stand out”. It can be expressed by unusual clothes or behavior with which the child tries to prove his originality to the outside world. Such behavior is typical at a teenage age.
In the worst-case scenario, a teenage kid can develop aggressive, defiant, and boorish behavior. Often it means that he is unsure of what he looks like.
Adequate self-esteem means you respect and value yourself just to the right point. It allows you to feel secure. At the same time you:
- correctly correlate your abilities,
- look realistically at your successes and failures,
- set attainable goals and have realistic expectations,
- can be assertive when needed,
- know you can make decisions and be responsible for them,
- are resilient to stress and setbacks.
Maintaining a realistic view of yourself makes you open to feedback and learning. It means you are prone to self-improvement and are more eager to acquire new skills. It helps you to form healthy and honest relationships and to avoid toxic ones. In general, you are more optimistic and put out a positive vibe to everybody.
What are the consequences of an inadequate self-esteem in children?
Low self-esteem limits experience and prevents you from understanding the benefits of your individuality. You live in a constant state of strong emotional tension, anxiety, and fear of being condemned by others. Therefore, insecure children cannot separate from their parents for a long time; they copy their behavior. Lack of independence makes them dependable on assessments and recommendations of others. They always compare their acts to how others do things: family members, neighbors, friends, coworkers, and even just passers-by.
An inferiority complex not only interferes with personal growth but can also develop into prolonged depression and neurosis, especially if it is aggravated by irrational feelings of guilt. If the child or adolescent suffers from low self-esteem, he can have fears, phobias, compulsive conditions, and even psychosomatic illnesses. To cope with them, you may need to go to a psychologist.
On the other hand, the desire to be first at everything condemns you to live in constant stress, forces you to prove to yourself and others that you are the best. An inflated self-esteem is formed in childhood when the child gets too much attention, affection, and praise. When he grows up, he demands the same attention and reverence for himself for no reason, which affects his relationships with others. Also, those who once received an “overdose” of compliments and flattery in adulthood become battered and unsociable. Once they realize they are not that unique and special, they become depressed and may suffer from mental disorders.
Moreover, in this case, the person often does not want to admit the presence of exaggerated self-esteem. It is extremely difficult to do something about it since he does not even understand that he has a problem.
Keep in mind that shifts in a teenager’s perception of himself are typical for an adolescent and can be considered a feature of the age. One day the child feels great, thinks he is talented and good-looking. But the next day, out of the blue, his self-esteem can change in the opposite direction. The teenager will suddenly decide that he is a failure, especially if someone comments negatively on his action.
In general, it is normal to worry about one’s traits. Still, it is necessary to keep this turbulence under control and not let it interfere with the teenager’s daily life.
Ways to build adequate self-esteem in a child
Here are some easy tips for every-day situations on how to build healthy self-esteem in your child.
Tell your kid you love him more often
It is such an obvious yet often neglected thing. How often do we share our love and appreciation with those around us? Yet, a lot of children genuinely feel unloved. Do not forget about body contact: a hug, a kiss, and even just a stroke on the head and holding his hand can do miracles.
Allow your child to be successful
Parents and teachers need to be attentive and sensitive to children’s needs and to help them discover their talents. You can offer the child feasible tasks and developmental situations. Together with emotional support and praise, this will greatly contribute to the formation of adequate self-esteem.
Support your child’s initiative
It is extremely important to do this at any age. Even if a preschooler decides to become an astronaut, support him by taking him to the planetarium. Even when he drops that idea, the feeling that you believe in him will remain. In the case of teenagers, the suppression of their intentions can trigger deviant behavior.
Don’t go overboard with the power you have
For a child, especially a teenager, to have his autonomy is a necessity. The more diverse and independent his activities are, the more opportunities he has to test his abilities and expand his ideas of himself and the world. Try to create more opportunities for him to enrich his individual experience.
Be objective about your child’s actions and behavior
It is necessary to analyze with the child the results of his actions. Together you can find the reasons for difficulties and mistakes and ways to correct them. This will form confidence in him that he will cope with difficulties and failures and will do well. At the same time, it will teach the child to set realistic goals.
Ask your child for advice or help as an equal
Let him know his help is needed and important. If you treat your child as an equal, he will feel this attitude and believe in his strength. But don’t overdo it: do not make the preschooler responsible for his little sister.
Teach respect for other children’s feelings and wishes
A child must communicate and interact with peers. Teach him to listen to what others have to say, but to have his point of view. If he has difficulties in relations with them, find out the reason and help him gain confidence in communication. You will find more tips on developing your child’s communication skills in our other article.
Avoid comparing your child to other kids
Phrases like «Patrick got an A, and you got just a C» are a big taboo. It is precisely these lines that lower the child’s self-esteem.
Avoid getting personal in conflicts
Instead of saying that your kid was bad, tell him he did a bad thing and try to get to the bottom of his actions’ motives. Discover what stopped him from doing the right thing. Such an approach teaches reflection: the child thinks about his actions and forms new behavioral patterns.
Do not overdo it with punishments
Explain your demands and rules to the child and be consistent in your punishments. Punish your kid only for serious misconduct and not just for not doing well while trying his best. Also, make sure he understands why he is being punished.
Self-esteem plays a major role in the formation of personality. It allows a child to correctly assess his or her mental, physical abilities and choose which personal qualities he needs to develop. It shapes his goals, values, attitudes about things and people. Healthy self-esteem is the driving force behind the confidence on which the success of any area of our lives depends.
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