The Whole Child
I'm Glad I'm Me:
Developing Self-Esteem in Young Children
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Every parent hopes that their children are developing a positive sense of self-worth. How your children feel about themselves is one of your greatest responsibilities and biggest challenges. People who have a positive sense of self feel like they have something worthwhile to contribute and a sense of internal worth. They are able to venture out into the world, work toward attaining their goals, and welcome life with anticipation and pleasure.

This self-concept develops very early in life. From the very beginning, a baby learns from how people respond to her and how people see her. By about 18 months of age, a child has a clear notion that she has a separate and specific identity. You can assist your baby in feeling good about herself by recognizing the unique qualities that she possesses. It's important to pay attention to your baby's temperamental pattern so that your expectations fit her personality.

Children who have self-confidence have a feeling of internal worth that enables them to welcome challenges and work cooperatively with others. When children don't develop self-confidence, they tend to focus on failure instead of success, problems instead of challenges, and difficulties instead of possibilities. There is no single way to enhance self-esteem, but one way is to show children "unconditional positive regard." Let your children know that you care about them, accept them, and approve of them, no matter what. Your challenge is to accept your child as a person, even when you do not accept his behavior.

Honest Recognition and Praise
Honest recognition and sincere praise come from the heart and draw attention to something specific the child has done. Sometimes we spend so much time exclaiming, "Good job!" that it comes to have little meaning for children. Better to be more specific with remarks like "You worked so hard building that block tower!" or "Thank you for helping Raul pick up the paints."

Self-worth is such a private, internal feeling, your comments will have the most impact when they deal with who your child is and how she sees herself from the inside. When you praise your children, try to do it in a way that heightens their sense of inner satisfaction. Praise is an external source of esteem, which is helpful but not nearly as valuable and effective as internal sources that come from a sense of competence.

Respect is another key component in reinforcing your child's self-worth. There are several ways you can show respect for your children. You can offer them choices when appropriate, then respect and abide by their decisions. Showing confidence in your child's ability to make decisions helps build his self-esteem. Another way to show respect towards children is to explain the reasons behind the rules or adult decisions. Avoid talking about children in front of them unless they are included in the conversation.

The most effective thing you can do to help your children feel a sense of self-worth is to help them achieve competence or an internal feeling of mastery or control. Every time your child does something well, she feels competent because of what she did, not because of what someone said. Here are six practical ways to help your children gain competence:

  • Encourage your children to make their own choices and be as independent as possible.
  • Provide many different experiences and activities for your children to experience success.
  • Provide opportunities that are challenging but not too difficult or frustrating. When developing new skills, children need to practice and try things out over and over again.
  • Encourage a diverse range of skills for both girls and boys. Avoid reinforcing stereotypical ideas of what is appropriate play. Pay attention to allowing and encouraging equal access to activities and skills.
  • Offer many creative activities where your children can explore the process of creation and the expression of their ideas and feelings.
  • Offer your children as many opportunities as possible for interacting and playing with other children and help them to figure out strategies for getting along with them.
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