Even though self-esteem has been studied for decades, its precise nature and development is still subject to debate. However, child development experts generally agree that parents and other adults who are important to children play a major role in laying a solid foundation for a child’s self esteem development.
When parents and teachers of young children talk about the need for good self-esteem, they usually mean that children should feel good about themselves. With young children, self-esteem refers to the extent to which they expect to be accepted and valued by the adults and peers who are important to them.
Self esteem is so important in young children because it is a self fulfilling prophecy. The more confident children feel about their social, physical and intellectual success then the more likely they will succeed. Conversely, the less confident children feel then the more likely they will fail.
Children with a healthy sense of self-esteem feel that the important adults in their lives accept and care about them. They feel that those adults would be upset if anything happened to them and would miss them if they were separated. Children with low self-esteem, on the other hand, feel that the important adults and peers in their lives do not accept or care about them very much.
During their early years, young children’s self-esteem is based largely on their perceptions of how the important adults in their lives judge them. The foundations of self-esteem are laid early in life when infants develop attachments with the adults who are responsible for them. When adults readily respond to their cries and smiles, babies learn to feel loved and valued. Children come to feel loved and accepted by being loved and accepted by people they look up to. As young children learn to trust their parents and others who care for them to satisfy their basic needs, they gradually feel wanted, valued, and loved.
Self-esteem is also related to children’s feelings of belonging to a group and being able to adequately function in their group. When toddlers become preschoolers, for example, they are expected to control their impulses and adopt the rules of the family and community in which they are growing. Successfully adjusting to these groups helps to strengthen feelings of belonging to them.
Young children are unlikely to have their self-esteem strengthened from excessive praise or flattery. On the contrary, it may raise some doubts in children; many children can see through flattery and may even dismiss an adult who heaps on praise as a poor source of support–one who is not very believable.
As they grow, children become increasingly sensitive to the evaluations of their peers. When children develop stronger ties with their peers in school or around the neighborhood, they may begin to evaluate themselves differently from the way they were taught at home. You can help your child by being clear about your own values and keeping the lines of communication open about experiences outside the home. You can also help by teaching your child to socialize well with other children and encouraging interaction with children with similar family values.
Children do not acquire self-esteem at once nor do they always feel good about themselves in every situation. A child may feel self-confident and accepted at home but not around the neighborhood or in a preschool class. Furthermore, as children interact with their peers or learn to function in school or some other place, they may feel accepted and liked one moment and feel different the next. You can help in these instances by reassuring your child that you support and accept him or her even when others do not.
Self-esteem is most likely to be fostered when children are esteemed by the adults who are important to them. To esteem children means to treat them respectfully, ask their views and opinions, take their views and opinions seriously, and give them meaningful and realistic feedback.
A child’s sense of self-worth is more likely to deepen when adults respond to the child’s interests and efforts with appreciation or interest rather than just praise. Respond positively by taking their interests seriously with appropriate encouragement, for example, reading a book about dinosaurs or studying worms in the garden.
Young children are more likely to benefit from tasks and activities that offer a real challenge than from those that are merely frivolous or fun. Young children can be given appropriate responsibilities and tasks that make them a part of the community or family.
You can help your child develop and maintain healthy self-esteem by helping him cope with defeat as well as success. In the moment of failure remind your child that you still love and support him. Later, when the initial emotional response has passed talk with your child about the situation. Sometimes, it is important to point out that most people are not good at everything they try. Or perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from a mistake or lack of preparation. Teaching children to work past the small disappointments and troubles of childhood can help them handle the greater challenges life will throw in their path.
As a parent you play a primary role in the development of your child’s sense of self worth and that sense of self will play a crucial role in your child’s future success. Showing your child that you value and care for her and helping her learn to value herself can go a long way to building that important sense of self esteem.