As a teacher, the building of self-esteem in my students is my primary goal. If a child believes in himself, he can achieve any goals he sets before him. A child who does not believe in himself has already doomed himself to failure. This theory is further demonstrated by Marlow’s Hierarchy of Needs (learn more at http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/regsys/maslow.html ).
In short, Maslow has asserted that basic needs must be met before self-actualization can occur.
How can a parent help to build a child’s self esteem? There are several approaches that a parent can take. One is to provide your child with honest recognition and praise. This means “catch” your child doing wonderful things and let him know what he has done, but be as specific as possible. For example, don’t simply say, “Good job, Jonny.” Rather, say, “I like how you put your dishes away after dinner, Jonny, it showed me that you are learning how to be responsible.”
Another key component to building self-esteem is to provide your child with respect. I have found this to be the number one way that I get through to my students. Too often, as adults, we look as children as being beneath us rather than as human beings with valid thoughts and feelings. Ask yourself, would I talk to my husband or mother this way? It’s ok to disagree with your child, but validate his feelings by letting him know that you understand his point of view. Then, express your point of view to your child and try to get him to see your point, as well. Granted, you will, as a parent, have to put your foot down at times, but this validation shows your child that you respect him as a person, thereby building his self-esteem.
Another method for building self-esteem is to help the child to build competence in himself. This can be done by encouraging your child to make choices. As a parent, your responsibility is to limit these choices. For example, rather than saying, “Which socks do you want to wear today?” you might say, “Do you want to wear the red socks or the white socks today?” This still empowers your child while keeping him within an acceptable framework.
Another way to build competence is to help your child become engaged in activities that will challenge him, but within which he will ultimately find success. Your job as a parent is to carefully select activities that will provide your child with such an opportunity.
Regarding America’s obsession with looks and its affects on self-esteem, the parent is responsible for not reinforcing such stereotypes. If you model to your child that outer beauty is not important to you, then your child will be less likely to focus on outward beauty. It is inevitable that your child will still hear these messages from others and from the media. Again, as a parent, maintaining open, honest communication with your child in which you can discuss your child’s feelings of inadequacies will help to counteract this negative fact of life. Furthermore, the stronger your child’s self-esteem is, starting from a young age, based upon characteristics other than appearance, the less impact the American obsession with beauty will have on your child’s self-esteem.