I believe that parents have the power to build their child’s self-esteem. They also have the power to shred it to pieces. Sure, lots of it is nature, but nurture plays a big enough role that we should take it very seriously and do our best to help our children love themselves.
Building our children’s self esteem is important, because a person who loves himself is more capable of loving others than a person who doesn’t. A person who loves and respects herself will not allow others to abuse her. There’s nothing I want more than for my daughters to love themselves and accept themselves just the way they are.
These are some of the things I try to do in order to make sure my children grow up with a high self esteem.
1. Tell your children you love them every day.
2. Hug your children every day.
3. Don’t dismiss their dreams for the future. My oldest wants to be a writer when she’s a grownup. She writes beautifully, but part of me wants to tell her how hard it is to make a living as a writer – that she should write as a hobby and find a “real” job. Instead, when she talks about how she will write books for a living, I listen, smile, and tell her how happy I am that she loves to write so much and how talented I think she is.
4. Tell them they are perfect just the way they are. Reinforce the idea that people have a unique combination of talents and strengths and that there’s more than one way to be smart, beautiful, or successful.
5. If you have a daughter, it’s very important to counter the media’s message that the most important thing about a woman is her looks, and that beauty has a very narrow definition. Avoid criticizing your own body in front of your daughter; avoid buying women’s magazines; when you read a book or watch a movie that presents women as needing a man to rescue them, tell her that while a man can be a great life companion and partner, she doesn’t need a man to rescue her: she can take care of herself; talk about the media, advertising and photo retouching; point out to strong female role models and let her know she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to.
Photo credit: IkonikPhoto
6. Focus on your children’s strengths and encourage them to develop those instead of focusing on their weaknesses. J.D. Meier elaborates on the idea of focusing on one’s strengths in his article Three Myths About Strengths and Weaknesses.
7. Try to truly accept your children just the way they are. It’s not easy. Most of us have an ideal in our head and we would love to mold our child into that ideal. We feel this way because we love them and want to protect them. We believe that certain qualities or pursuits or preferences, such as being good in sports or being an outgoing person rather than an introvert,or being straight rather than gay, will make their lives easier. But it is our job as parents to accept them just the way they are and accept that they can be happy even if they don’t fit into the mold.
8. Make sure they know they can always reach out to you, no matter what. My mom told me, years ago, that I can always come to her, even if I think I did a terrible thing, even if I completely messed up, even if others will judge me and hate me and kick me out of their lives – she will always be there for me.
9. Encourage them to show respect and compassion to others and to avoid judging others or being mean to others. A person who treats others well feels good about himself. Those who are cruel to others are usually deeply unhappy.
10. Listen – really listen – to your kids. I read somewhere that during conversation, most people begin to form the answer in their heads while the other side is still talking! This certainly happens to me often with my kids because I tend to assume they want advice. But in many cases, they don’t. They just want me to listen.
Photo credit: KellyB
11. Be available. I work many hours each day in front of the computer, and I often work when my kids are home, but they know they can always approach me and talk with me and I will always drop everything, turn my back to the computer and listen to them. If you work outside the home, dinnertime and bedtime can be great opportunities to spend time with your kids. I start bedtime routine 30 minutes early each night, because my kids love to prolong it by talking with me, asking me questions, asking me for another kiss and another hug.
12. Be polite to your children. If you won’t use this tone with a coworker, you shouldn’t use it with your kids.
13. Allow them to make their own decisions as often as possible and as appropriate for their age. Children have very little freedom and very little control over their lives. Whenever possible, give them the freedom to make their own decisions. Even if it’s small decisions such as deciding what to wear or what to eat, and even if you need to present a few choices they can pick from, it will still empower your children to be able to make those decisions. It is also important to never do something for a child that they can do for themselves, even if you will do it better or faster.
14. Teach your children they can do anything if they really want to. Teach them not to be afraid of failure and to avoid perfectionism. I frequently point out my own mistakes and failures as a way to show my kids that I am not perfect, that nobody is perfect, and that failing at something is not the end of the world.
15. Never put them down, mock them, point out their flaws, or make fun of them. It sounds obvious, but even the best parent can get frustrated and exhausted enough that they put their kids down when the kids make a demand that seems stupid or unreasonable. One of my kids is afraid of spiders. We do have spiders in our house once in a while. As much as it’s frustrating to me, as much as it seems unreasonable to be afraid of a small (really small!) spider, I remind myself that this is a very common fear; that it’s very real for her; and that if I keep my calm and show her time after time that I am not afraid, while removing the offending spiders from the house, chances are her fears will eventually subside (although she might never completely stop being afraid of spiders).
Photo credit: Stinkie Pinkie
16. Encourage your children to be adventurous and to try new things. It’s very natural for a parent to feel protective of her kids and to try to prevent injury. But there’s a fine line between setting limits to protect them, and being so overprotective that they become afraid of trying new things. One of my daughters broke her arm a couple of years ago while playing at the playground on a climbing wall. She was on a play date: I wasn’t even there when it happened. But today, when we took them to a different playground and she climbed a tall climbing wall, I was shaking. I had to remind myself that this is a great milestone for her. For several months after healing from the accident, she refused to climb tall climbing structures.
17. Teach them not to worry about what others say or think about them. My youngest, who is 7 years old, often asks me “do you think the kids will laugh at me if I do/ wear that?” I‘m teaching her she should ignore others’ opinions and criticism. I like to wear bold red lipstick, and one day she told me one of her friends said it’s “weird” that I wear lipstick “every day, not just for parties.” I responded, “Well, I like it. It makes me feel good. I don’t care what other people think about it. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to look.”
18. Give them as much freedom as possible to play and explore. We live in a world where kids are not free to roam the streets the way they used to. But even with the limitations we have put on ourselves as parents, even if we don’t tell our kids to “go outside, play, come back in time for dinner and don’t get into trouble,” we can still send them to play outside in the backyard; we can still encourage free play and using their imagination as much as possible.
19. Acknowledge their efforts even when they don’t lead to accomplishments. “I was happy to see you working so hard on that project. Glad you enjoyed it.”
20. Start a tradition of taking each of your kids out for a special one-on-one outing once a month, or a few times each year. I recently took each of my kids on a special “date” for their birthdays. We went to a coffee shop and ordered hot chocolate with whipped cream and cookies. Spending an hour together, just the two of us, enjoying the food and talking without interruption or competition from the other sibling, was priceless.
Photo credit: Robert Whitehead