by Patrysha Korchinski
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Nearly forty years of scientific research clearly indicates that self-esteem in children is a vital component to future success. Self-esteem issues have been shown to be an underlying issue in many significant risks to our youth. From anorexia to school achievement to gangs and violence, self-esteem is a factor that has been attributed to an increased risk in all of these areas and more.
The fact that the strongest influence on self-esteem is a child’s parents can either be comforting or terrifying. While it’s heartening to know that we can contribute something so vital to our children, it can also be scary to realize that high self-esteem levels are as much of a risk factor as low self-esteem levels. A healthy self concept is neither elevated nor depressed, but something of a happy medium.
The problem with self-esteem is that it is largely an inner issue. We can’t give our child the right levels of self-esteem wrapped up in cheery paper like a gift at Christmas. We can’t deal with the issue once and be done for all time, like potty training. Building a healthy self-esteem is an on-going process that never ends, even as our children head into adulthood.
So what can we do?
1. Provide age and developmentally-appropriate opportunities for success (and failure).
Our lives are defined in part by what we’ve accomplished, what challenges we’ve faced and how we’ve overcome them. By providing your children with appropriate activities to develop their skills we are building on their concepts of self. Part of building a healthy self-concept is as easy as being in tune with our child’s interests and responding to them. Look for toys and activities that encourage your child to stretch just slightly beyond their current level of mastery, but be careful not to introduce challenges that are too difficult. For example, if your child has mastered a 50-piece puzzle set, the next step would be a 100-piece puzzle, not a 1000-piece one.
2. Don’t be afraid to discipline.
Too many parents have confused the concepts of discipline and punishment, which are indeed two very different things. A child needs limits and boundaries to develop into a well-rounded individual. An excellent guide to discipline is the book Kids are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso.
3. Use Praise and Rewards judiciously
Praise and rewards, contrary to popular belief, are not beneficial ways to promote healthy self-esteem. The problem is not in praise or rewards themselves, but in the way we have been accustomed to using them. When using praise ensure you are as specific as possible rather than simply falling back on the standard “Good Job!” or “Way to go!” Remember to acknowledge effort and not simply the finished product or outcome. (Click here for 100 ideas to praise a child.)
4. Spend time with your children.
It’s simple and it works. Time spent with your children shows them how important they are to you. No matter how busy your schedule is, setting aside time for your children is a significant investment in developing their self-esteem. You don’t need to plan anything special or go to any expense. Setting up a time each week for a family game or movie night can be a lot of fun but all you really need to do is hang out and keep in touch with each other.
5. Develop your own interests and talk about them.
Parents sometimes forget that the most influential way to teach our children is not with our words but with our actions. If you feel ambiguous about your own self-esteem levels, your child will pick up on that. So take a course, join a sporting activity, or just take some time to pamper yourself. Having your children see that you value yourself gives them a positive role model in the quest for a healthy self-concept.
It’s important to develop routines and traditions that fit your lifestyle and your child’s needs and interests. These are just five of the many ways you can work towards developing the ideal balance of self-esteem in your child. It’s an investment in the future that doesn’t need to cost a thing.
Patrysha Korchinski is the wife of a wonderful teacher and a mother of three rambunctious boys in Northern Alberta. A mom of all trades, she is currently pursuing her education through Athabasca University while running the planning and promotions business Incredible Impressions at http://www.incredibleimpressions.com. Comments and questions can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
This example borrowed from Minnesota State University at Mankato.
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