Raising kids with high self-esteem


Having confidence and faith in oneself is something we all acknowledge to be a positive trait. Success is so often accompanied by self-confidence, a good self-concept and self-esteem.  We visualise those with high self-esteem as walking tall, being able to socialise easily, share their opinions with assurance, ready to assume leadership roles and take necessary risks in life.  They stand up for themselves, are independent enough to resist peer pressure and even escape bullying.  Good reasons for us to consider how children may be helped to develop high regard for themselves.


It starts with the formation of identities.  We have many different identities that we form throughout our lives.  These identities are linked to the roles we have in life as we experience ourselves in different stages and situations. For example, we have all been in the role of a child, a brother or sister, a preschooler, a primary school learner, a soccer or netball player, a reader, and later a boy or girlfriend, wife or husband, mother or father, employee or employer, grandparent, retiree, and so on and on.


As we take on different identities, we evaluate them.  We assess ourselves in relative terms – using others as a comparison.  For example, we compare ourselves to others in the classroom and may conclude that we cannot read as well as most.  That may lead to a negative image of our identity as a reader.  On the other hand, we may compare ourselves favourably in another situation, for example, in art class.  Our identity as someone who draws and paints will be positive.  And we also evaluate ourselves according to how others rate us.  If we hear (or see) approval of some aspect of ourselves from others, we will judge ourselves accordingly.


As we live our lives, it is, of course, impossible to have high regard for every single identity we form.  The important thing is that we have more positive self-identities than negative – especially if the areas in which we score ourselves positively are deemed significant by our particular culture and society.


For this reason, the attitude of significant others to who we are and what we do plays an important role in the formation of high self-esteem.  If we constantly meet with criticism or negative comments regarding ourselves, we don’t have a chance to evaluate any of our identities positively.  This results in the formation of a negative self-concept and low self-esteem with a resulting lack of confidence in our abilities and value.


Young children tend to be naturally confident about themselves but this can quite quickly be undermined by criticism or ridicule from family and teachers.  Sometimes, in the hurly burly of our daily lives, we don’t have time to stop and consider their good behaviours; we only notice when they misbehave, quarrel, make mistakes at school, fail to do their chores, can’t get ready on time and so on.  We react very quickly to annoying behaviours.  What we should be doing is watching out for positive behaviours, successes and achievements no matter how small. Those create opportunities to acknowledge a child and by acknowledging them, we increase their confidence and reinforce their self-worth.


Part of growing up should include opportunities for children to consider their own good points and also hear about these from others.  We can’t all be top of the class, a whizz chess player, the best cricketer and so on and seeming to never shine at anything can be detrimental to the forming of a high self-esteem. But we certainly do all have things we are good at – and every child should be able to name those.


This doesn’t mean that parents should continually give children positive messages to the point of being dishonest.  A healthy self-esteem is realistic.  Children need to be helped to evaluate their identities accurately.  Telling children they are ‘so clever’ when they actually lack academic talent is not helpful.  Rather give them praise for things that they really do well, and support lesser abilities by modelling helpful acceptance of one’s limitations.  A child who accepts that he isn’t able to read as well as others but takes comfort from the fact that he copes well in maths class or is good at making friends on the playground is well on the way to a realistic, positive self-esteem.


Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT)  focuses on unravelling the underlying causes of a child’s failure to thrive at school.  Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to read more about our approach. We also offer courses for parents, teachers and other helping professionals.


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