Building Healthy Self-Esteem

  • Building Healthy Self-Esteem 

    by Family First

    Healthy self-esteem in children is crucial to their relationships with others, as well as their own personal successes - both as children and in their future adult years.  As parents, we play a vital role in the development of self-esteem during our children's formative years.

    What is Self-Esteem?

    According to Michael R. Sheehan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and creator of The Self-Esteem Game, a healthy self-esteem in children is the, "positive view and good feelings (they have) of themselves."

    While self-esteem is an important concept in parenting, there are also many misconceptions surrounding self-esteem.  Marianne Neifert, M.D. explains, "Contrary to what many parents believe, fostering a healthy sense of her own worth will not make a child conceited, selfish, spoiled or self-centered.  Rather, healthy self-esteem describes appropriate self-acceptance, self-love, and self-confidence that becomes the foundation for self-imporvement."

    Low Self-Esteem and Unhealthy Self-Esteem

    In fact, children with low self-esteem may become easily frustrated or moody, may have poor problem-solving skills, have difficulty making and keeping friends, make self-critical marks or may put down others, and lack the conficence necessary to try new opportunities.

    In addition to the dangers of a low self-esteem, children can also face problems when they develop unhealthy types of self-esteem.  Dr. Sheehan explains that, "Self-esteem is not always healthy.  We can hold ourselves in high regard and feel good about ourselves for the unhealthy reasons.  It is not unusaual for the school bully to feel good about himself for being able to beat up everyone else in the class.  Sometimes children and adults feel good about themselves for getting even in a mean and vindictive way.  Additionally some people base their feelings of high regard on their successes and achievements.  This attachment of worth to performance is actually a set up for a loss of self-esteem."

    Building Healthy Self-Esteem

    Parents play a crucial role in helping to build healthy self-esteem in their children.  Dr. Sheehan states, "Self-esteem is learned mostly at home during childhood.  This is why it is essential for parents to be kind, give praise, love and listen to their children."

    Dr. Sheehan provides the following tips to help parents develop healthy self-esteem in their children:

    • Parents should give children their time and undivided attention.
    • Parents should be fair and use resonable consequences when changing problem behavior.
    • Parents should reward their children when they see them doing good things.
    • Parents should support character qualities such as courage, self-reliance, confidence, respect, honesty, problem-solving, positive attitude and uniqueness.
    • Parents should encourage their children to be responsible for their own thought, feelings and actions.
    • Parents should teach their children to look at setbacks as opportunities in disguise.
    • Parents should tell their children that they are loved unconditionally.
    • Parents should tell their children that they are good.
    • Parents should remember that their children's worth is independent of their performance.  However, parents can attach privileges to performance.
    • Parents should explain to children that having a healthy self-esteem is not being conceited or stuck-up. 

    In addition, Dr. Neifert also encourages parents to help their children feel competent and valued.  Parents can build feelings of competency through daily structre and routines, appropriate choices, gradual steps of independence and teaching their children to set goals.  Neifert says parents can help their children feel valued by demonstrating a respect for all life, communicating their unconditional love and providing a sense of heritage and belonging in their family.

    Dr. Sheehan summarizes this concept of developing healthy self-esteem with the following encouragement: "Self-esteem should not be based on what we do, but rather, who we think we are.  After all I am not what I do.  I am the precious human being that does it.  If I make a mistake I am not the mistake, but rather the awesome learning machine that is capable of correcting mistakes."