You Are At: AllSands Home > Kids > Building self-esteem in children
Children do not come into the world equipped with a healthy sense of self-esteem. Rather, they enter life with a strong need to survive, an instinctual knowing that they are dependent on their caregivers to live. It is the job of the parents to build their children's sense of self-esteem, to help them achieve a strong sense of their own worth.

In the first few months of life, a state of symbiosis exists with child and primary caregiver, usually mother. The infant does not know that mother exists separately from herself. Rather, she experiences mother as merged with self. At about three to six months of age, the child begins to know that mother/caregiver is separate. It is at this time that the task of building self-esteem begins.

The infant begins to gaze intently into mother's eyes. The process that is occurring here is that the baby is trying to see whether or not she is pleasing to mother. This "gazing" of the infant needs to be returned by a "Mirroring" back from caregiver to baby that "yes, indeed, you are wonderful. I love you and delight in you." This is accomplished by mother returning the gazing of baby, by mom making soothing, calm sounds and talking, by mother holding the child in a relaxed, close manner. The child begins, if the above process is handled appropriately, to feel that she is pleasing to mother.

As baby changes into a toddler and gains in language and locomotion skills, the child begins to listen more carefully to mother/caregiver's tone of voice, getting clues as to how pleasing he is to the adult. Soon, the child will begin to ask or demand, "Mommy, look at me. Mommy, come see what I did." The child is striving both for a sense of mastery of tasks and of competency. Mom's job in these situations is to heap praise on the toddler's head, to verbally build up the child. It is also important for parents to create situations in which the child can try and succeed in tasks. Assigning age-appropriate household chores and then praising for a job well-done builds the child's sense of self-worth.

Soon the child is of school age and is trying many more new things. The boy taking swimming lessons poises on the diving board. Before he jumps, he calls out, "Watch this, Mom." It is very important that the parent watch and then commend the child on either a job well done or the effort he made. It is important to comment on the efforts the child makes in many areas of life, from schoolwork to cleaning his room to having good table manners. In other words, give your child lots of positive feedback on not only the results, but on the attempts she makes to accomplish tasks.

Children need to be valued not only for what they do, but, even more importantly, for who they are. Look for the positive, admirable qualities in your child and talk about them with the child. Learn to see your children as separate individuals, each of whom has value, though they may vary tremendously. Speak with your child of her potential, yet value her for where she is now.

Learn to speak his language; talk with him in ways he will understand and be receptive to. When children are young, lean or kneel down to their level when talking with them. This conveys, "You are important and I will come to meet you where you are."

Avoid comparing your children to any others, especially their siblings. Respect and affirm their unique qualities. Tell them that they are valuable to you just as they are. Tell them that you have no specific expectations for them, but rather that you look forward to sharing their journey with them as they discover who they are and how they might best be themselves.

Allow your kids to have their feelings. Learn what feelings are. Post a chart of feelings for young children with pictures that they can point to as they learn to identify their feelings. Teach your kids that feelings are not right or wrong, not good or bad, feelings just are. Create an atmosphere in your home where each person is allowed to have his/her feelings. Then teach your children about how to best appropriately express these emotions.

Talk with your children about how wanted they were and are. Speak of how knowing them enriches your life. Tell them that they do not have to be like anyone else, but instead they need to learn who they are and then be the best "me" they can be.

Hang out with your kids. While educational activities have much merit, remember that the best, strongest way to show your kids that they matter and are important to you is to give them your time. Find out what the child likes to do and then do that with them. Lying in bed together on a rainy morning making up silly songs may convey more affection and a stronger sense that they matter to you than taking in another art museum.

Keep the rules in your house few, simple, easily understood, and consistently enforced. Children need limits and boundaries in order to feel safe. Do not, however, overload your kids with too many "do's and don'ts."

Be physically affectionate with your children. Tell them often, at least daily, that you love them and they are very important to you.

In summary, it is the job of the parent to behave in ways that instill in their children a sense that they are important, are loved for who they are, are not compared with others, and that they are competent at a variety of tasks. Keep the focus on the positive and give your kids a homelife where there is soil that will enrich them. Children do need eventually to learn to give themselves their own sense of worth, confidence, and esteem. In the early years, though, it is up to the parent to show their kids that they are worthwhile. Invest your time, energy, and love into your kids while they are young. The result will be children with a healthy sense of self-esteem.