A healthy self-esteem is key to your child’s happiness and success, both now and in the future. Lack of confidence and over-confidence are both signs that a child’s self-esteem isn’t strong. But how can we as parents, help build our child’s self esteem? Following on from the first article in our series, 7 Useful Tips On How To Build Self Esteem In Your Child, parenting expert Val Mullaly offers 7 More Useful Tips on How to Build Self Esteem in Your Child:
Connection is the second key to building your child’s self esteem. Imagine this scenario.
‘Ok. We need to go now. Come on, let’s get on your shoes and socks.’
Jim grabs the sock and his toddler’s foot. In an instant this scene changes from relaxed play to a toddler rolling on the floor, screaming. Jim tries to wrestle the sock onto his son’s foot, while the toddler squirms, writhes and roars on the floor.
‘Don’t be silly,’ scolds Jim.
It makes sense that any parent can become frustrated with an uncooperative toddler. Why do they have to be so unreasonable, especially when we are in a rush! What we, as parents, often don’t realize is that it is in the everyday actions like this that, one mini incident at a time, we break or build a child’s self esteem.
Our responsibility (and challenge) as parents is to be aware of the three keys of self-esteem, and how we unlock each of these, so that a child develops a strong sense of self.
I don’t perceive this toddler’s behaviour as silly, bold or naughty. I don’t see his behaviour as defiant. I see this as healthy behaviour in a young child. Think of it. At this stage a child’s skills are just developing. He needs to learn to do things for himself. To practice doing things until he has mastered each little skill. Putting on a sock is a big deal when you’re a toddler. It’s a life skill he’s trying to master.
It’s the stage of development that he needs to successfully achieve, on his life journey to accomplishing even greater skills. That’s why I see the child’s protest as healthy behaviour. Learning to do things for himself is a necessary step on the journey to growing up.
Remember the first key to building your child’s self-esteem we chatted about last month? Build your child’s competence. Build your child’s ability to do things for himself, because competence builds confidence. When you give your child enough time to put on his socks himself, with your calm, relaxed support, you build his competence in this skill. And as he becomes more competent, he feels more confident. A child needs his autonomy – to be able to do things for himself.
And this brings us to the second key to building your child self-esteem – the child’s need to belong. A sense of belonging, of connection, is core to your child’s self-esteem. He needs to have a sense of belonging to himself. ‘I can put my sock on for myself.’ And he also has a strong need to feel a sense of belonging and connection with you. When Jim became frustrated, his toddler son sensed the disconnection and protested. All conflict is a protest at the disconnection.
So at times like this when a young child demands to do things for himself, he is not being naughty; he’s not being defiant. He is struggling to assert his need to develop his competence. When he tries to express this, your frustrated reaction or helpful response deeply impacts his sense of belonging (and connection), because the parent is the mirror through which the child sees himself.
Tips to Build Your Child’s Sense of Belonging and Connection
#1. Let them do things themselves
Wherever possible, let your toddler do things for herself when she wants to (she needs to ‘belong to herself’.)
#2. Let your child know your intentions in advance.
None of us like to be caught unawares. He needs a sense of ‘belonging’ to his own body. For example, if he needs a nose-wipe, tell him you are about to wipe his nose.
#3. Build in time to let them do things
As far as possible, build enough time into your schedule for your child to do things that she wants to do for herself.
#4. Put yourself in their shoes
When you feel yourself becoming frustrated, notice your own thoughts, e.g. ‘She is deliberately defying me’. Rather try to imagine the situation from her perspective. She’s trying to express her needs and her perspective, which are key aspects of belonging to oneself.
#5. When possible give choices
For example, say, ‘Do you want to put on your socks yourself, or do you want me to put them on for you?’. Your young child needs to develop a connection to her own preferences and her awareness that she can make choices in life.
#6. Avoid shaming or name-calling.
If you repeatedly call your child ‘silly’, she’ll get to believe that she belongs in the group of ‘silly’ people. When she believes she’s silly, she’ll act silly. Rather like the characters in the ‘Mr Men’ books!
#7. Acknowledge their perspective
When there isn’t time or it isn’t suitable for her to do tasks herself, you can still acknowledge her perspective. E.g. ‘You really want to put your socks on yourself. But right now we are in a hurry and I need you to let me help you.’ This helps her to still feel connection with her own desires, without losing connection with you.
It doesn’t mean that a meltdown won’t sometimes happen, but your awareness of your child’s need to ‘belong to self’, as well as keep connected to you, can help you respond in a way that builds your child’s self-esteem.
Remember – your child’s behaviour is about him, your response is about you. To discover practical parenting advice on how to respond, rather than react, that can transform your home into the happy, cooperative place your family all want to be, read my new Parenting book: ‘BEHAVE, What To Do When Your Child Won’t’.
Probably all of us at times have dented our children’s self-esteem unintentionally. But when we become more aware, we can recognise the parenting moments that we don’t handle well and then we can figure out how we can handle them more helpfully.
Join us next month to discover the third key to building your child’s self esteem. And I’d love to hear from you, please post your experiences and questions about the day-to-day challenges in building your child’s self esteem in the comments below.