»Our children pick up a great deal from how we embrace them each morning, how we react when they break our favorite vase, how we handle ourselves in a traffic accident, how we sit and talk to them, wheather we take an interest in what they say.«
Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Being a parent can be one of the great joys of life. It also can be an awesome responsibility. There are few roles as demanding as that of a parent. Not only are parents entrusted with the physical well-being of their children, but they shape their children's personalities, their values, and how they feel about themselves.
As parents, we want our children to become successful in life. We hope to see our children develop into productive individuals having such qualities as self-confidence, pride, and motivation. Outstanding individuals in every field—athletics, academia, business, creative arts—demonstrate these qualities. Such individuals possess high self-esteem. Self-esteem is the feeling of self-respect that includes five characteristics.
Developing the characteristics of self-esteem early in life is important because a child's self-esteem determines how he or she acts and learns. Children who possess high self-esteem are eager to learn; they get along well with others; they enjoy new challenges; and they are highly motivated. Children with high self-esteem become achievers who enjoy success.
Children who lack self-esteem do not learn as well. They feel inadequate and compensate for such feelings by criticizing the achievements of others. They become sensitive and concerned about what others will think, and lose motivation. When problems arise, they blame others and find excuses for themselves.
Children who lack confidence in themselves believe they are going to fail anyway, so they rarely put forth the effort required to succeed. After repeated failures, they truly believe they cannot succeed. As a result, their level of self-esteem and motivation drops even lower. Research indicates that children who lack self-esteem often become nonachievers, delinquents, drug users, and school dropouts.
What can you do as a parent to develop self-esteem in your child?
You can change your child's feelings about himself or herself, and you can develop each of the five characteristics that make up self-esteem. You can build self-esteem by the way you talk to your child, by the expectations you set, and by the kinds of experiences you allow your child to have.
There are a number of things you shouldn't do, however. You shouldn't protect your child from difficult situations, accept whatever quality of work your child produces, or provide excuses for your child when he or she gets into trouble. These behaviors tend to produce attitudes in children that result in low self-esteem rather than the desired high self-esteem.
Think of the process of building self-esteem as similar to the process used to train a student to fly an airplane. First the student learns the rules and develops a sense of trust and rapport with the instructor. The instructor then demonstrates how to fly the plane. Gradually the student assumes more responsibility for controlling the flight and finally gains the skills required to fly solo, with the instructor monitoring the process from the control tower. Ultimately, the student is entirely independent as a pilot.
This is the general approach you need to follow as you work to develop self-esteem in your child. You need to set and enforce rules, help your child establish comfortable relation¬ships, demonstrate how to set goals, and monitor and support your child's progress. As this process is repeated, your child will grow in maturity and will assume more responsibility. You can then do less directing of the child's activities and more monitoring from your "control tower." The BASE material that follows includes ideas that you can use to help build your child's self-esteem.