Parenting is, to say the least, one of the toughest jobs on earth, and one for which no one is fully prepared. No baby is born with an”operating manual” in tow, and parents have to figure it out as they go. We tend to focus a lot of our attention on feeding them, clothing them, and keeping them safe. Later as they grow, we’re faced with disciplining our children, sometimes as early as 2 years of age. When a child reaches for the stove, we have to keep them safe and teach them what they should and shouldn’t do for their own good. One of the most important tasks a parent faces is building a healthy self-esteem in their child. Adults are often faced with problems that can be traced back to low self-esteem and emotional insecurity.  This emotional insecurity usually stems from a lack of emotional nurturing from parents during childhood.

Self-esteem is the value that a person ascribes to themselves, what they believe about their worth and importance. When a child has a healthy self-esteem, he will face life’s difficulties and challenges with greater confidence in his ability to deal with them. The child will have the ability to develop positive relationships and handle her emotions well. Children with low self-esteem tend to be more anxious, fearful, or conflictive. Their internal thoughts are negative, and they tell themselves “I can’t”, “I’m stupid” or “No one really likes me”. They grow up to be adults who are conflictive, critical of others, and their relationships are often strained. Their emotional insecurity and negative thoughts are often so ingrained that it takes serious counseling and therapy to reverse the damage and learn to believe and think positive things about themselves.

Some things that parents can do to help build their child’s self-esteem are:

Catch your child doing something good and point it out: Look for opportunities to catch your child doing the right thing, and point it out. Praise your child when the opportunity arises and tell her you’re proud of her good choices.

Watch your words! Children are like sponges and they believe that their parents are all-knowing. They look to their parents for their cues about life, who they are, and how they fit into the world. When a parent makes thoughtless comments such as “What’s wrong with you?” or “I wonder if you’re ever going to get it!”, (and much worse in too many cases), the child internalizes those messages and begins to believe that he is defective and worth very little. That’s a heavy load to carry into his teens and adulthood! Words have the power to build up or to tear down. Make sure your words are building your child’s self-esteem and not the opposite.

Provide your child with opportunities to succeed: Not all children are good at sports, but all children have talents and abilities that need a place of expression. Providing these opportunities give the child a sense that they may not be great in some areas, but they are very capable in other areas. Expose your child to music lessons, art, sports, reading clubs and many other activities to help him discover his hidden interests and talents. We bought our son his first guitar at age 12, and he discovered that he had real talent. Today he is a great guitar professor!

Be an example to your child: Don’t berate yourself or be critical of yourself in front of your child. Be realistic about yourself, recognizing your weaknesses or faults, but also your strengths. This will provide an example of a balanced view of self. Your child will understand that having a healthy self-esteem isn’t about thinking they’re perfect, but is rather a balanced view of self, working to improve areas of weakness while focusing on areas of strength.

Don’t overprotect your child: Overprotecting your child sends her the message that she isn’t capable of taking care of herself. We do need to protect our children from harm, but we don’t need to solve all of their problems. Talk to your child and ask your child what he or she thinks should be done in a given situation. Ask if she wants you to step in or if she wants to handle things on her own. Encourage her to deal with the situation and make wise choices. My children didn’t want me to run up to their school every time they had a problem. They wanted to deal with it on their own!

Listen to your child: One of the greatest ways to show a child that they are loved and valued is to listen to them. We don’t have trouble talking to our kids, but listening is often a challenge. Sometimes they want to talk when we’re busy or interested in something else. When we want to talk, they’re interested in something else, so the opportunities are often lost. Take time everyday to put down the laptop or turn off the television, and ask your child about his day. Ask open-ended questions that will lead to greater sharing. Example:

“How was your day today?”… “Ok”. (not much information there).

“What was the most interesting thing that happened today?”… “Well, my best friend told me that….” (this opens the conversation for greater sharing).

Give you child frequent hugs: Even if your child doesn’t seem to need hugs, give them anyway! Tell your child you love them. Don’t assume that they know you love them. Even when they are older and “stiffen up” when you hug them, don’t stop! (But not in front of their friends! Keep it at home!)

Spend time alone with each child: Spending time alone with each child tells her that you see her as an individual person and not just ‘one of the kids’. One-on-one time provides unique opportunities for dialogue and sharing.

These are just a few suggestions that will help strengthen your child’s self-esteem as he/she grows and finds his/her place in the world. Being aware of your child’s emotional needs and being available is essential in building a healthy, balanced self-esteem. This may just be the greatest gift you can give them that will remain with them the rest of their lives.

Deborah (Debbie) Pinkston, Ph.D.