Strong self-esteem is the foundation for success in many areas, including social, educational, athletic and career pursuits. For example, a healthy and positive self image may help also protect children from abusing drugs and alcohol, entering unhealthy relationships, and engaging in delinquent behavior as they grow up. Raising your children to have positive self-esteem is an arduous, but extremely rewarding process.

Temperament Makes a Difference

Some children may have a more difficult time developing a positive self image because of their temperament. As adults, we need to be aware of these inborn traits that cause children to respond differently to praise, punishment, and frustration. By recognizing the distinct traits of your children, you may become more empathic and understanding parents. Raising “difficult” children may require a parenting style different from the kind that works with “easy going children”. If you appreciate and accept each child’s unique personality and incorporate this recognition into your parental behaviors and expectations, the child’s self-esteem is likely to improve. 

Know Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Accurately viewing your children can help bolster their self-esteem. Develop an inventory of your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Take care to list actual positive and negative traits as opposed to traits you would like your children to display. Reinforcing positive qualities is a successful way to bolster self-esteem. Parental approval and encouragement can shape children’s behavior so look for opportunities to praise. Be careful not to flatter excessively because this could put too much pressure on the child. Assess the negative qualities as well, looking for such counter-productive coping mechanisms as quitting, cheating, regression, controlling, bullying, denial, and impulsive behavior. Some undesirable behaviors may be a matter of personal style or part of a transient phase in a child’s development. While recognizing both the positive and negative traits, you can help your children meet their needs in a healthier and more productive manner.

Set Clear Limits

Setting clear limits and consequences and balancing rigidity with flexibility are critical for children’s development. Parents should attempt to blend nurturance and acceptance with realistic expectations, clear cut rules, and logical consequences. Parents should also act in a consistent manner to their children’s behaviors as they occur. When disciplining, parents should stay away from judgmental, attacking language which could lower your child’s self-esteem.

Listen to Your Children

Listen carefully to your children — this attention can be critical to the development of high self-esteem. Since many things compete for our attention in today’s hectic world, we sometimes have trouble focusing. Try to set aside a certain amount of time, even if it is only five or ten minutes after school, to give your child your full, undivided attention. Turn off your cell phones; let the answering machine pick up. Listen actively to your child, ask questions and remember key points. Try to understand the point of your child’s story and how he or she feels when relaying the information. Remember that you do not have to fix everything; the child may just need to air his or her feelings.

Children need to feel safe to express themselves even when strong feelings are involved. Although those feelings sometimes worry or alarm us, we should never deny a child’s right to feel a certain way.

Additionally, we should not draw comparisons with the way other children might feel in a similar situation. All feelings are valid, but the way they are expressed may not be appropriate. Help your children find different ways to air their feelings. Encourage your kids to use their imagination when describing how they feel. Try to think of a story about yourself that demonstrates that you can handle intense emotions in a healthy manner. Remember, that you as the parent are the most important role model for your children.

Learning from Mistakes

As adults, we should let our children know that making mistakes is an acceptable part of life. Instead of being defeated by mistakes, we can learn from them. Therefore, children should be encouraged to take appropriate risks even if it means that they make mistakes. If children view their mistakes as learning experiences as opposed to indications of their incompetence, they will continue to take risks. The ability to persevere with difficult tasks and recover from failure are signs that a child feels good about himself or herself. Our encouragement and acceptance of mistakes as an integral part of growing up will teach children how to be kind and patient with themselves. Confident and secure children will become their own best friends. They will gain the ability to encourage and support themselves through life’s difficult moments. Helping your children build positive self-esteem will pave the way for your children to lead happy and successful lives. No other experience could be more rewarding for a parent.

How Social Workers Help

According to the latest statistics social workers provide more than half of the nation’s mental health services. Licensed social workers are now on the front lines of services to children, adults and families in all areas of mental health, family counseling, developmental disabilities, health care, and faith based services etc. Social workers’ training and theoretical emphasis on an eco-systemic approach makes them well suited and the primary professional involved in the burgeoning home, school and community based settings. It is my hope that this brief article on building self-esteem, will be used by the many social workers who are having a daily impact on the millions of kids and families that they work with.