You know your own child better than anyone and should be able to
pick up the signs - through behavior and words - if your youngster has a
low self-esteem problem. Sometimes, however, you might be too close to
her, or you might have difficulty seeing the world through her eyes. In
cases like this, teachers, coaches, relatives and friends might be able to
No matter what your child's self-esteem may be, your goal should be to
help her feel as good as possible about herself. Remain sensitive to what
she is feeling, recognize and acknowledge her efforts and gains, and
remain flexible and supportive in the way you approach her difficulties.
Accept your child as the person she is, and help her feel good about
herself and the person she is becoming. Keep in mind that the single most
important factor in maintaining a child's self-esteem is the presence of
an adult who demonstrates respect and acceptance and who provides support
that conveys the message "I believe in you."
For healthy self-esteem, children need to develop or acquire some or
all of the following characteristics:
A sense of security.
Your child must feel secure about
herself and her future. ("What will become of me?")
A sense of belonging.
Your youngster needs to feel
accepted and loved by others, beginning with the family and then extending
to groups such as friends, schoolmates, sports teams, a church or temple
and even a neighborhood or community. Without this acceptance or group
identity, she may feel rejected, lonely, and adrift without a "home,"
"family" or "group."
A sense of purpose.
Your child should have goals that
give her purpose and direction and an avenue for channeling her energy
toward achievement and self-expression. If she lacks a sense of purpose,
she may feel bored, aimless, even resentful at being pushed in certain
directions by you or others.
A sense of personal competence and pride.
should feel confident in her ability to meet the challenges in her life.
This sense of personal power evolves from having successful life
experiences in solving problems independently, being creative and getting
results for her efforts. Setting appropriate expectations, not too low and
not too high, is critical to developing competence and confidence. If you
are overprotecting her, and if she is too dependent on you, or if
expectations are so high she never succeeds, she may feel powerless and
incapable of controlling the circumstances in her life.
Since adolescence threatens to diminish individuality, parents should
help children discover their unique talents and interests. Support your
child in the belief that it is okay to be different - that difference is
special and valued. Talk with your youngster about things she likes about
herself, and about things you particularly like as well.
A sense of trust.
Your child needs to feel trust in
you and in herself. Toward this goal, you should keep promises, be
supportive and give your child opportunities to be trustworthy. This means
believing your child, and treating her as an honest person.
A sense of responsibility.
Give your child a chance to
show what she is capable of doing. Allow her to take on tasks without
being checked on all the time. This shows trust on your part, a sort of
"letting go" with a sense of faith.
A sense of contribution.
Your child will develop a
sense of importance and commitment if you give her opportunities to
participate and contribute in a meaningful way to an activity. Let her
know that she really counts.
A sense of making real choices and decisions.
child will feel empowered and in control of events when she is able to
make or influence decisions that she considers important. These choices
and decisions need to be appropriate for her age and abilities, and for
the family's values.
A sense of self-discipline and self-control
child is striving to achieve and gain more independence, she needs and
wants to feel that she can make it on her own. Once you give her
expectations, guidelines, and opportunities in which to test herself, she
can reflect, reason, problem-solve and consider the consequences of the
actions she may choose. This kind of self-awareness is critical for her
A sense of encouragement, support and reward.
does your child need to achieve, but she also needs positive feedback and
recognition - a real message that she is doing well, pleasing others and
"making it." Encourage and praise her, not only for achieving a set goal
but also for her efforts, and for even small increments of change and
improvement. ("I like the way you waited for your turn," "Good try; you're
working harder," "Good girl!") Give her feedback as soon as possible to
reinforce her self-esteem and to help her connect your comments to the
A sense of accepting mistakes and failure.
needs to feel comfortable, not defeated, when she makes mistakes or fails.
Explain that these hurdles or setbacks are a normal part of living and
learning, and that she can learn or benefit from them. Let your
supportive, constructive feedback and your recognition of her effort
overpower any sense of failure, guilt, or shame she might be feeling,
giving her renewed motivation and hope. Again, make your feedback specific
("If you throw the ball like this, it might help") and not negative and
personal ("You are so clumsy," "You'll never make it").
A sense of family self-esteem.
self-esteem initially develops within the family and thus is influenced
greatly by the feelings and perceptions that a family has of itself. Some
of the preceding comments apply to the family in building its self-esteem.
Also, bear in mind that family pride is essential to self-esteem and can
be nourished and maintained in many ways, including participation or
involvement in community activities, tracing a family's heritage and
ancestors, or caring for extended family members. Families fare better
when members focus on each other's strengths, avoid excessive criticism
and stick up for one another outside the family setting. Family members
believe in and trust each other, respect their individual differences and
show their affection for each other. They make time for being together,
whether to share holidays, special events or just to have fun.