Vail Daily column: Nurturing a child’s self-esteem
August 28, 2010
EDWARDS, Colorado – One of the most crucial tasks we have as parents is to help our children develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. While there are no absolute programs or guaranteed steps to accomplish this task, there has been quite a bit of research outlining behaviors and conditions that tend to produce the most favorable environment for the development of self esteem in our kids.
The “Antecedents of Self Esteem” by Stanley Coopersmith is a landmark study on the most common behaviors of parents of children who grew up manifesting healthy self-esteem. Specifically, he found five conditions present:
• The child experienced total acceptance of thoughts, feelings and the value of his or her person. Clearly, one of the issues important here is that each child must be treated as a unique individual, and must be valued for the special qualities and gifts he or she possesses.
I have heard parents say, “Well, we treat all of kids exactly the same.” While I understand the desire of these parents for equality and mutuality in the family, we know that no two human beings are exactly alike, and therefore we must value the individuality of each of our children. How would you describe the differences in your children, and how do you honor and value those differences?
• The child operated in a context of clearly defined and enforced limits that were fair, non-oppressive and negotiable. Research is fairly clear that kids need and want boundaries. Boundaries provide safety, guidance, security and opportunities for our kids.
Even when our children push against those boundaries, they are learning how to negotiate their place in a world that is full of boundaries. We teach our kids how to operate in a bigger world that does have limits, and we help them to understand the necessity of their own choices and skills in dealing with a world that doesn’t always give them what they want.
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By negotiating boundaries in age-appropriate ways, we teach our kids that they can help to determine the course of their life. We help them to learn a sense of self-determination which is a central factor in the building of self esteem.
• The child experienced respect for his or her dignity as a human being. How are you intentional and purposeful in your efforts at “respecting your child?” Every human being values being respected, and yet we often don’t think about that particular issue when we consider our children, especially younger children.
We can easily understand that our adolescents need respect as a part of their growing self-esteem, but exactly where does that task need to begin? It needs to begin at the very beginning. A child that feels respected and valued at an early age is going to build a foundation of personal dignity and self-worth that provides a greater opportunity for healthy self expression in later years.
• The parents upheld high standards and high expectations in terms of behavior and performance. I believe that other things being equal, our kids will live up to our expectations. Kids need to know that you believe in their talents, gifts and skills by your regular encouragement and rewards for their accomplishments.
There is, of course, a fine balance between “bribes” and “rewards” for your kids’ behavior. The key issue here is helping your kids know and feel that you believe that they “can do” and that you encourage their initiative and efforts at excellence.
Certainly you do not make their accomplishments a condition for your expressions of love, respect and approval, but you do want to support and encourage your kids to believe in themselves and their abilities by expecting them to succeed.
• The parents themselves tended to enjoy a high level of self-esteem. “You don’t pour water out of an empty bucket” and you can’t give something to another that you don’t have. The example you set as a parent about the way you feel about yourself is absolutely one of the most powerful tools you have in helping to develop self esteem in your children.
Our children do watch our examples of living more than we sometimes think they do. I am convinced that somewhere in the hospital nursery just after birth, someone installs an extra set of emotional radar detectors in our babies. They are able to sense in us an experience and an expectation of life. What do you communicate to your kids, purposefully and unconsciously, about your own self esteem?
Randy J. Simmonds, Ph.D. is the clinical director of the Samaritan Center of the Rockies, a nonprofit counseling center in Edwards. Simmonds is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He can be contacted at 970-926-8558. For more information about the Samaritan Center go to http://www.samaritan-vail.org