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Self-Esteem: Building A Healthy Self-Esteem in Your Child

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Healthy self-esteem in children is crucial to building strong relationships — both during the childhood years and the adult years. And it probably won’t surprise you that a mother plays a vital role in the development of self-esteem in her children.

What Is Self-Esteem?

According to Michael R. Sheehan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and creator of The Self-Esteem Game, a healthy self-esteem in children is the, “positive view and good feelings [they have] of themselves.”

While self-esteem is an important concept in parenting, there are also many misconceptions surrounding self-esteem. Marianne Neifert, M.D. explains, “Contrary to what many parents believe, fostering a healthy sense of her own worth will not make a child conceited, selfish, spoiled or self-centered… Rather, healthy self-esteem describes appropriate self-acceptance, self-love, and self-confidence that becomes the foundation for self-improvement.”

Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Self-Esteem

In fact, children with low self-esteem may become easily frustrated or moody, may have poor problem-solving skills, have difficulty making and keeping friends, make self-critical remarks or may put down others, and lack the confidence necessary to try new opportunities.

In addition to the dangers of a low self-esteem, children can also face problems when they develop unhealthy types of self-esteem. Dr. Sheehan explains that, “Self-esteem is not always healthy. We can hold ourselves in high regard and feel good about ourselves for unhealthy reasons. It is not unusual for the school bully to feel good about himself for being able to beat up everyone else in the class. Sometimes children and adults feel good about themselves for getting even in a mean and vindictive way. Additionally some people base their feelings of high regard on their successes and achievements. This attachment of worth to performance is actually a set up for a loss of self-esteem.”

Building Healthy Self-Esteem

Dr. Sheehan says, “Self-esteem is learned mostly at home during childhood. This is why it is essential for parents to be kind, give praise, love and listen to their children.”

Dr. Sheehan provides the following tips to help mothers develop healthy self-esteem in their children:

  • Give your children your time and undivided attention.
  • Be fair and use reasonable consequences when changing problem behavior.
  • Reward your children when you see them doing good things.
  • Support character qualities such as courage, self-reliance, confidence, respect, honesty, problem-solving, positive attitude and uniqueness.
  • Encourage your children to be responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions. Tell them that nobody can force them to think or feel anything — they are 100% responsible for their own thoughts and emotions. Make sure your children don’t blame others for their own mistakes, but grow in maturity as they accept the consequences of their choices.
  • Teach your children to look at setbacks as opportunities in disguise.
  • Tell your children that they are loved unconditionally.
  • Tell your children that they are good people, even if they sometimes act badly. However, let them know that there are consequences for bad behavior, and enforce consistent discipline. Don’t believe the lie that discipline will crush your child’s self-esteem. Your children need loving discipline and consistent guidance of right and wrong in order to become healthy adults.
  • Remember that your children’s worth is independent of their performance. However, you can attach privileges to performance.
  • Explain to your children that having a healthy self-esteem does not allow for being conceited or “stuck-up.” And make sure they also value and esteem the lives of other people around them.

In addition, Neifert encourages mothers to help their children feel competent and valued. You can build feelings of competency through daily structure and routines, appropriate choices, gradual steps of  independence and teaching your children to set goals. Help your children feel valued by demonstrating a respect for all life, communicating your unconditional love, and providing a sense of heritage and belonging in your family.

Dr. Sheehan summarizes this concept of developing healthy self-esteem with the following encouragement: “Self-esteem should not be based on what we do, but rather, who we think we are. After all I am not what I do, I am the precious human being that does it. If I make a mistake I am not the mistake, but rather the awesome learning machine that is capable of correcting mistakes.”

Sources: Michael R. Sheehan Ph.D., Self-Esteem, Inc. 

“Promoting Healthy Self-Esteem in Your Child,” Marianne Neifert, M.D., ParentLife magazine, July 2004.

Medical information within this site is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of any health condition. Please consult a licensed health care professional for the treatment or diagnosis of any medical condition.


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