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Practices That Help Children Develop Authentic Self-Esteem

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Adults use specific practices that affect a child’s self-esteem. Authoritative, supportive adults use strategies that enhance children’s self-esteem. Enhancing practices help children develop authentic—healthy, positive, and realistic—self-esteem. Nonsupportive adults use strategies that degrade or humiliate children, thus contributing to the development of negative self-esteem (Pawlak & Klein, 1997). Other adults focus on activities that ultimately foster narcissism or excessively self-centered views of the self.

Believe in and Adopt an Authoritative Caregiving Style

Authoritative caregivers are demanding in an appropriate way. They are also highly responsive to what children need. The authoritative style helps children comply with (obey) reasonable limits and assists them to be more helpful and cooperative and less aggressive.

Authoritative adults also help children develop positive self-esteem (Kernis et al., 2000; Pawlak & Klein, 1997). Parents and teachers are most likely to help children develop healthy self-esteem by combining acceptance, affection, high but reasonable expectations, and limits on children’s behavior and effort (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch, 1991). Children also have a better chance of developing healthy self-esteem when parents have little conflict in their marriages (Pawlak & Klein, 1997).

Plan Appropriate Activities That Are Deserving of Children’s Time

You really do not need to plan “cute activities” intended to boost self-esteem. In fact, cute activities are frequently developmentally inappropriate. Katz (1993) believes that children are most likely to develop authentic self-esteem when they participate in activities for which they can make real decisions and contributions. The project approach helps children focus on real topics, environments, events, and objects that are deserving of a young child’s time and effort. Developmentally appropriate activities help a child see herself as connected to others, as a hard worker, as kind and helpful, and as a problem solver. These are enduring traits that will help children develop a healthy sense of self and self-esteem.

Express Genuine Interest in Children and Their Activities

Engage in joint activities willingly. Adults who show an interest in children believe that a child’s activities—whether playing with measuring cups, finger painting, playing computer games, building a campsite, or playing in sand—are valid and interesting. An adult communicates belief that the child is a person worthy of the adult’s attention by demonstrating concern about a child’s welfare, activities, and friends. Children tend to be competent, both academically and interpersonally, when significant adults communicate genuine interest in them (Heyman, Dweck, & Cain, 1992).

Several decades ago, Coopersmith (1967) found that parents of children with both high and low self-esteem spent the same amount of time with their children. He explained this puzzling finding by stating that the mothers of children with high self-esteem spent time willingly with their children and seemed to enjoy the interaction. Mothers of children with low self-esteem, on the other hand, appeared to spend time with their children grudgingly.

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