1. Parents can play a major role in building their children’s self esteem. If you want your child to be positive and confident lead by example. Aim to be a good role model of someone with a positive self image. If you feel inferior and hard done by you transmit this to your child in your comments, attitudes and reluctance to embrace change and challenges.
2. A major part of children’s self esteem is formed early in life through experiences with their environment and the people around them. The ability to master childhood tasks also affects their self confidence. Throughout our life span our sense of self worth is being moulded and developed by life’s experiences and our interactions with others. People who lack self confidence later in life often avoid situations where they will be put to the test. They opt to stay in a safe place where their abilities will not be overly stretched.
3. Showing young people the importance of being concerned about justice and making other people’s lives more fulfilling, happier and less painful will help build children’s self-esteem, according to Fr Peter McVerry, the Dublin based Jesuit known nationally as a champion of homeless boys, who has spoken in Galway.
He says the consumer culture persuades us that the meaning of our lives lies in the accumulation of goods. “Young people live in a culture which defines for them the meaning of their lives, their security and their potential happiness and fulfilment in terms of material goods and services, in other words, in getting. The self-esteem which we are trying to instil in young people is directly in contradiction to this culture. It is built up by giving.
“It is in giving to others that we build up our self-esteem, because we can only give to others if we are convinced that we have something valuable to give. To give in to a culture which finds, in the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of one’s own career or the accumulation of material goods, the meaning of life is to deny young people the opportunity to develop an authentic self-esteem. When things go wrong, when we lose our job, or find our income reduced, when we can no longer afford the standard of living that we have come to expect, then our self-esteem disintegrates because it was built on sand.”
4. Local psychologist, therapist and trainer Diarmuid Lavelle advises parents to encourage their children to have a balanced, positive view of themselves. Knowing how to deal with mistakes or setbacks and understanding that their behaviour is separate from their identity are good ways of boosting their confidence.
“There are a few fundamental rules to supporting children’s self esteem. Firstly, give them unconditional love and acceptance by separating their behaviour from them.”
If you are unhappy with the way they carry-on on occasion, explain why and reassure them they are still accepted and loved, he suggests.
“Every behaviour has a positive intent. Flushing your car keys down the loo is not effective behaviour but your child is loved none the less.”
He says unconditional acceptance makes for effective behaviour in the future if the child knows the negative consequences of his ineffective actions.
“Remember it is the action that is bold, not the child. When we make the child wrong or bad for what they have done they have not learned why the behaviour is ineffective. In the future they are more likely to use the negative behaviour as a way of getting back at the parent rather than seeing how it acts on the world.”
5. Accept your children for what they are. They are not a mini you nor an idealised version.
6. Allow them to make decisions for themselves from an early age. Taking on responsibility helps them develop confidence. Allow them to have a say in the meals they eat, clothes they wear, how they care for a pet, hobbies, etc.
7. Encourage them to set goals. It will help give them focus, drive and movitation. Guide them towards choosing ones they care about because they will be more likely to keep those. Get them to adopt a step-by-step approach to projects or goals that may seem overwhelming at first. Remind them not to expect success without effort and to compete with themselves, not others.
Instil in them the belief too that not succeeding at something does not make them a failure. Encourage them not to fear setbacks and to understand that we learn from our mistakes. Get them to realise too that we must take risks to grow and leaving our comfort zone can be frightening and challenging.
8. Help them to understand that they may not be able to do some things or excel at every subject or pastime. Giving themselves permission not to be good at everything they do will help them avoid self imposed, unhealthy pressures later in life. Focus on their strengths and abilities as much as possible.
9. Respect your child’s model of the world and realise it is different from ours, advises Diarmuid Lavelle. “What we may think is silly or nothing to worry about they may take it seriously and have deep concerns. Set aside a time of day to talk and listen to your child openly. This will be very rewarding for you both. During this time refrain from judging or making things OK for a while, just listen.”
Encourage curiosity and wonder. This supports intelligent, open thinking.
“Give your child a balanced sense of identity. They are like other people and at the same time they are unique.”
10. If you are unhappy with their behaviour sometimes try not to tell them they are bold/rude. Separate their behaviour from them and explain why their action was upsetting/distruptive.
Avoid nagging, threatening or criticising. If you have something to say, say it and leave it at that. Do not revisit the issue over and over.