You can’t touch it, but it affects how you feel. You can’t see it, but it’s there when you look at yourself in the mirror. You can’t hear it, but it’s there every time you talk about yourself. What is this important but mysterious thing?
What Is Self-Esteem?
To truly understand self-esteem, it helps to break the word in two parts. Let’s take a look at the word esteem first. Esteem is just a fancy word for thinking that someone or something is important or valuing that person or thing. And self, is just another word for YOU!
Put the two words together and it’s easy to see what self-esteem is and just how important it is for children.
Self-esteem is the collection of the beliefs and feelings we have about ourselves, our “self-perceptions.” It results in what we define ourselves influences our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors and affects our emotional adjustment.
We know that patterns of self-esteem start very early in life. For example, a toddler who reaches a milestone experiences a sense of accomplishment that bolsters self-esteem. Learning to roll over after dozens of unsuccessful attempts teaches a baby a “can-do” attitude.
The concept of success following persistence starts early. As kids try, fail, try again, fail again, and then finally succeed, they develop ideas about their own capabilities. At the same time, they’re creating a self-concept based on interactions with other people. This is why parents want to assist in every way they can in helping kids form accurate, healthy self-perceptions.
Self-esteem also can be defined as feelings of capability combined with feelings of being loved. A child who is happy with an achievement but does not feel loved may eventually experience low self-esteem. Likewise, a child who feels loved but is hesitant about his or her own abilities can also end up with low self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem comes when the right balance is reached.
Self-esteem isn’t like a cool pair of sneakers that you’d love to have but don’t have to have. A kid needs to have self-esteem. Good self-esteem is important because it helps you to hold your head high and feel proud of yourself and what you can do. It gives you the courage to try new things and the power to believe in yourself. It lets you respect yourself, even when you make mistakes. And when you respect yourself, adults and other kids usually respect you, too.
Having good self-esteem is also the ticket to making good choices about your mind and body. If you think you’re important, you’ll be less likely to follow the crowd if your friends are doing something dumb or dangerous. If you have good self-esteem, you know that you’re smart enough to make your own decisions. You value your safety, your feelings, your health — your whole self! Good self-esteem helps you know that every part of you is worth caring for and protecting.
How Kids Get Self-Esteem
Babies don’t see themselves in a good or bad way. They don’t think “I’m great!” when they let out a big burp or worry “Oh, no, this diaper makes my legs look weird!” Instead, people around a baby help him or her develop self-esteem. How? By encouraging the baby when he or she learns to crawl, walk, or talk. They often say, “Good job. Good for you!” When people take good care of a baby, that also helps him or her feel lovable and valuable.
As kids get older, they can have a bigger role in developing their self-esteem. Achievements — like getting a good grade on a test or making the All-Star soccer team — are things kids can be proud of. So are having a good sense of humor or being a good friend.
A kid’s family and other people in his or her life — like coaches, teammates, and classmates — also can boost his or her self-esteem. They can help a kid figure out how to do things or notice his or her good qualities. They can believe in the kid and encourage him or her to try again when something doesn’t go right the first time. It’s all part of kids learning to see themselves in a positive way, to feel proud of what they’ve done, and to be confident that there’s a lot more they can do.
How Children Acquire Self-Esteem
Babies don’t see themselves in a good or bad way. But the people around a baby help him or her develop self-esteem. How does this happen? Encouraging the baby when he or she learns to crawl, walk, or talk is one way. Another is when people take good care of a baby, that also helps him or her feel loved and valuable.
A child’s family and other people in his or her life —can help to boost his or her self-esteem. They can help a child figure out how to do things or notice his or her good qualities. They can believe in the child and encourage him or her to try again when something doesn’t go right the first time. It’s all part of a child learning to see themselves in a positive way, to feel proud of what they’ve done, and to be confident that there’s a lot more they can do.
Healthy self-esteem can be a child’s armor against the challenges of the world. Children who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They tend to smile more readily, enjoy life and are realistic and generally optimistic.
In contrast, children with lowered self-esteem can find challenges to be sources of major anxiety and frustration. Because they think poorly of themselves, they can have a hard time finding solutions to problems. Faced with a challenge, their immediate response might be “I can’t.”
How Parents Can Help
How can a parent help to foster healthy self-esteem in a child? The following can make a difference:
Watch what you say. Children are very sensitive to parents’ words. Remember to not just praise your child not only for a job well done, but also for effort. But be truthful. Be certain to reward effort and completion instead of outcome.
Be a positive role model. If you’re constantly harsh on yourself or negative about your abilities and limitations, your child may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your child will have a great role model.
Identify and redirect your child’s inaccurate beliefs. It’s important for parents to identify a child’s beliefs about themselves. These beliefs can range from perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping children set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy self-concept. Inaccurate perceptions of self can take root and become reality to children.
Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will go a long way to boost your child’s self-esteem. Give hugs and tell kids you’re proud of them. Give praise frequently and honestly, without overdoing it.
Give positive, accurate feedback. Acknowledges a child’s feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages the child to make the right choice again next time.
Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who feel safe and loved often have a higher self-esteem than those who don’t come from this kind of home environment.
Help children become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem.