How children value, or see themselves, impacts their future success in life, so your child’s self esteem matters. But do you know how to nurture their self esteem? In this three part series, we’ve revealed the first two keys to helping children’s self esteem – building your child’s competence and nurturing their sense of connection and belonging. Our final key is self worth – here’s Why These 7 Good Tips Will Help Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem.
The Third Key to Self Esteem
The other essential factor in building self esteem is your child’s sense of worth. That your child is loved – not for what they do, not for what they say, not for how they behave – loved just for who they are.
‘Of course I love my child,’ you say.
It’s a very, very rare parent who doesn’t love their child. Loving your child is one thing – but does your child always experience your love? Your unconditional love, despite what behaviours might be challenging right now. Does your child know, ‘You are of worth.’
Maybe you, like me, have had moments when you’re so focused on your own agenda that you’ve lost touch with your child’s perspective. Angry or anxious moments when you’ve overlooked what message your reaction conveys to your child. Does this harm a child’s self worth?
Here’s an example:
‘No!’ roars the mother.
I glance across the shopping arcade to where she stoops over the child. Her eyes glare at her toddler as her fingers snatch at his hand.
‘Bad boy! That’s filthy!’
She grabs the sweet out his hand, before he can get it in his mouth.
‘You don’t pick sweets off the floor. That’s disgusting.’
The child’s face crumples. The anticipated sweet has vanished. And Mommy is shouting at him. His eyes fill with tears, his little chest heaves and loud wails pierce the air.
‘Stop now,’ she snorts. She slumps back into the chair, her fingers knuckled around her coffee cup. She stares out at the busy mall, ignoring him as he sobs by her knees.
I want to go to the mother. I want to tell her how much her little boy needs her understanding and connection right now. That he’s not even three and that his brain is still under development and that he doesn’t understand about germs. But she’s frustrated. Right now she wouldn’t – couldn’t – listen. She wants to be a ‘good’ mother – she wants to keep him from danger. But she’s not seeing his experience. She’s not understanding what life looks like from toddler perspective.
Imagine if he could verbalise how he experienced this: Red sweet. On floor. Sweet – mmmm. Mama – shout. Mama take sweet. Want sweet. Mama – shout. Mama say me bad.
Of course, if he had a more adult thought processes he might have said,
‘Hey! Give it back. That’s my sweet! I want it!’
He might have thought, ‘What’s got into her?’
But the young child is not able to understand that his mother’s behaviour is about her – about her worry for him and that she’s upset because she loves him and wants to protect. How the child makes sense of it is, ‘Me bad.’ And ‘me bad’ undermines a child’s self esteem.
We’ve all had moments when we have lost the cool with our children. Moments we are ashamed of. Moments we regret. And our children need us to reconnect with them. They need us to say we’re sorry we got angry – and we don’t want to behave like that again.
It’s not ideal, but all relationships have fall-out. Parents are humans too. An isolated incident of losing your cool can happen. But what matters is your day-to-day interactions give the message to your child, ‘You are loved. You are lovable.’
When a child experiences shaming behaviour from a parent or carer, day after day, each upset causes a tiny bite from his self worth, like the quiet gnawing of tiny termites eroding the foundation of a house. And, sometimes, as parents, we excuse our own behaviour rather than facing the fact that we are mirrors to our children. Our children see themselves in light of what we reflect to them. We need to pay attention to the small everyday interactions that can build or erode our children’s self esteem.
Here are another seven useful parenting tips, which focus on your child’s sense of worth – the third key to building your child’s self esteem.
#1. Be kind to your child
You child’s sense of worth comes from the smile in your eyes, the warmth in your hugs, the caring in your voice.
Be kind when it’s hardest to do so. When your child acts in an unlovable way that needs you to set a limit, is probably when they most need your love and reassurance.
Focus on hearing your child’s experience, without interrupting, disagreeing or trying to push for your agenda. To know that they matter, children need to know their experience and their opinions matter too.
#3. See life from your child’s perspective
When you focus only on your own agenda it’s easy to believe your child is being disobedient, uncooperative, naughty, bold or lazy. And those thoughts can pollute your interactions. When you reflect on how your child might see the situation, you will probably find you’re thinking and acting more compassionately.
#4. Be kind to yourself
When you’re feeling good inside, it’s easier to feel good about others and to be there for them.
#5. In an upsetting situation give your child the benefit of doubt
Imagine your child had a positive intent, even if you can’t see it right now. When a parent sees only ‘the bad’ in a situation, it’s easy to blame or to shame.
#6. Deliberately schedule one-on-one opportunities
Family time together is important but all children, no matter what their age, thrive on ‘just me’ time. Time intentionally spent with your child gives the message, ‘You’re of value to me.’
#7. Have a routine that gives space for cosy, one-on-one interaction
It is easy to be so focused on getting children to bed that we overlook that the end-of-the-day routine is often a key opportunity for snuggles and for chatting about the day. Every child deserves to go to sleep feeling loved.
Read your child stories that share the message, ‘You are of value.’ One of my favourites is ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. Do you have any favourites that give your child the message that they are of worth? Let us know below.
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Over to you – I’d love to hear from you! Have you any further tips on building your child’s self-esteem, or maybe you have some questions? Let us know in the comments below.