Building Self-Esteem in a Child

Having a healthy sense of self-esteem is one of the most important things that adults can give to a child. Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, or someone else who is looking to improve your knowledge and learn how to apply those skills to help children have a better self-esteem, you are off to a good start by reading this article.

We will look at a wide variety of factors that influence self-esteem. Along with defining exactly what it is, we will look at why it is so important. We will also break it down and look at the various life stages that children go through and how self-esteem is important, and developed, during each of these stages. After you finish this article you be able to identify unhealthy self-esteem, as well as how to help build a healthy self-esteem in children.

The skills you learn are not only helpful in the home, but anywhere that you may be around children. But it doesn't stop there, because the same basic principle can be applied to adults as well. So if you, or other adults you know, could use a boost in self-esteem, you can adapt these skills to the adult level and apply them in order to help address the situation.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem may be something that we can't put our hands on, but it is certainly something we can see, as well as feel. While we don't feel it with our hand, we do feel it inside each and every one of us. For many people, defining self-esteem is a difficult thing to do. While that may be so, it is something that impacts all of us. We all have one, whether we can readily identify it or not, or whether or not we can put our finger on a definition of what it is.

Having said that, it is actually much easier to explain what self-esteem is than it may seem. Self-esteem involves each person and how they feel about themselves. It is not about big egos or being vain, but rather a sense of how you feel about who you are, and what you are capable of. Those who feel good about themselves have a healthy sense of self-esteem. Those who don't feel good about themselves are lacking in the area of self-esteem.

In the field of psychology, self-esteem is an important buzz word that is often used. That's because one's self-esteem plays such a significant role in people's lives. A healthy level of self-esteem is linked to a higher level of confidence, as well as self-respect. Having both of these will usually help people in life, because they will make better choices and be better able to handle many of life's challenges.

Why It's Important

So now you know what self-esteem is, but you may not realize yet why it is so important. A person's self-esteem will impact how they treat themselves, and how others treat them. It is how worthy we believe that we are. Those with high self-esteem will tend to treat themselves better than those with low self-esteem. And when you treat yourself better, you end up helping to improve self-esteem, so it's a continuous circular situation.

For adults, this is easier to identify and understand, so they can make active choices that will lead to improving or guarding their self-esteem level. But when it comes to children, they don't yet understand what self-esteem is, or how to build it, making it important that the adults around them make it a high priority.

When people lack self-esteem it can lead to a host of problems. Children who lack a good sense of self-esteem may lack such things as:

  • A sense of independence

  • Being able to adequately express their emotions

  • Assuming responsibility for their actions

  • Positive social involvement

  • Difficulty accepting compliments from others

  • Expecting very little out of one's self or out of life

  • Being able to trust one's opinions

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  • Not being able to properly handle peer pressure

  • Healthy relationships with others

Additionally, researchers have found that those with low self-esteem are more prone to developing such things as eating disorders, as well as a range of mental health issues, such as depression.

Causes of Low Self-Esteem

When it comes to the self-esteem of children, parents play the biggest role in helping to develop it. However, many parents may have difficulty helping their children to have a healthy self-esteem, simply because they may lack it themselves, or they may not know what it is that they need to do in order to help their child develop it.

There are many factors that can contribute to low self-esteem in children. Not all children experience the same things that lead to low self-esteem, so it is important to keep an open mind when you see child who is lacking in the self-esteem department. Many children with low self-esteem don't like the way they look, while others may not care for the way they act, or a combination of the two. Some children may have low self-esteem because they have a poor body image, or because they are taller than other children their age. Other children may have low self-esteem because of abuse in the home. Most children who suffer some sort of abuse in the home will have low self-esteem. This abuse may be in the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or even verbal abuse, where the child is told they are worthless or not capable of doing things.

When children live in an atmosphere where they are consistently criticized, abused, or berated, they will most likely grow up to feel they have very little self worth, thus leading them to have low self-esteem and a poor self-image. But it's even more than what takes place at home. A poor self-esteem can also be influenced by what goes on in school, or other activities that children engage in.

If children routinely perform poorly at school they may develop a sense of low self-worth because of their inability to do well. The same holds true for those children who may be repeatedly ridiculed, teased, or bullied at school. Whether it is in the classroom, the lunch room, or in playing sports, if there is consistent negative teasing or ridiculing, it will usually give children a negative self-esteem. Even if their parents are working hard to help instill a healthy self-esteem and they encounter consistent negativity at school, it can become a problem that leads to low self-esteem. This is because children often place a high value on what their peers say or believe and they want to please and fit in with them.

Self-esteem is such an important issue in regard to children, because that is where the foundation for it begins. How a child learns to see, or value, himself or herself as a child will lay the foundation for the way they feel as an adult. It's really during childhood when the stage is set for someone's self-esteem. If you can help a child have a strong foundation for self-esteem, it is something that will likely last them a lifetime.

Looking Ahead
Coming up next, we will start from the beginning, at infancy, and see how the foundation that adults lay starts with birth. Believe it or not, the beginning of self-esteem goes back even that far, creating a pattern that will be built upon over the course of the next 18 years, as the child continues to grow and develop.
Self-Esteem and Infancy

When you first think about it, you may not realize the connection between self-esteem and infancy. After all, it doesn't seem like there is much going on in a baby's mind, right? Not quite! In reality, even though they may not be able to communicate verbally with us adults, there is a lot of communication going on with infants. In this article we are going to look at the way self-esteem intersects with infancy.

Two-Way Communication

Think about it – when a baby is born, it enters the world with a way to communicate. It may not understand your language, yet, and you may not completely understand their language, but it's only a matter of time before that changes. Soon enough you will begin to understand the particular cries and sounds that the baby makes when it wants something. There may even be a different cry for when they are hungry, need to be changed, or simply want attention.

When it comes to self-esteem in infancy, a lot comes down to what happens after the baby sends out those communication signals. Let's say, for example, that a baby sends out signals, day after day, that it is hungry, cold, wet, or wants to be held. Suppose the response from the adults in their life is lacking. At times, someone comforts the baby and at times they don't -- or even that, more often than not, there is a lack of comfort provided. What type of message do you think is being sent to the infant? You probably guessed it correctly! That the baby is not worthy, at least to the adults that are in its life.

When this happens on a consistent basis in an infant's life, it can lead to the baby feeling insecure, which will add to the issue of low self-esteem, or low self-worth. If, on the other hand, the baby consistently sends out those same communication signals, and the baby's needs are met, they feel comforted and it will have a positive impact on their self-esteem. They will feel valued, cared for, and that they (and their needs) matter to those around them.
Did you know?

Babies can actually learn sign language as young as six months of age? It's true! And fans of it, along with some mental health professionals, find that when babies learn sign language, it actually boosts their self-esteem. Why? Because they have yet another way to express themselves, including their anger, their needs, and their feelings. And when we, infants or adults, can effectively express ourselves, it tends to make us feel good, and add to our self-esteem.

Building Self-Esteem

As you can see, even with infants, self-esteem is an important issue. They may be just at the beginning of this issue, but like a house that is being built, what happens to them during this first year is literally the foundation that is being laid. When you build a strong foundation, you will have a strong house. If you build weak foundation, you will have a house, or structure, that is also weak. While infants are not houses, the same principle holds true when it comes to building a strong foundation, or giving them a healthy self-esteem, so that they go on to continue to grow strong in mind, as well as body.

There is a myth many people believe in that promotes the idea that babies will become spoiled and weak if parents or caretakers end up picking them up or addressing their needs right away each time they let them know there is an issue. This is merely a myth. The reality, as we have learned, is actually the opposite. When an infant's needs are consistently met, they begin to feel a sense of predictability, which will help create confidence.

In order for infants to develop a healthy self-esteem it is important that they consistently have their needs met. They also need to feel love, need to be held and cuddled, talked to, and played with. Consistently engaging in all these behaviors will have a positive impact on a child's psychological well being, including on their self-esteem level.

When infants do not receive the nurturing they need, or have their needs met, there is an inherent response that will make them feel shame, which has a negative impact on one's self-esteem.

Attachment Parenting

There are millions of people today who engage what is referred to as "attachment parenting." This is a parenting style where the parents actively try to form a strong and nurturing bond with their infant. There are things they may do, as part of attachment parenting, to help create that close bond. Some of these things include:

  • Birth bonding – They may make special efforts to bond with the infant at the time of the birth.

  • Breastfeeding – Most moms who engage in attachment parenting also breastfeed.

  • Baby wearing – This is where the parent or caretaker "wears" the infant. They do this by putting them in an infant carrier, which helps to keep the baby closely bonded to the adult.

  • Co-sleeping – Many people who follow attachment parenting also co-sleep with their baby, or have the baby sleep somewhere near their bed in the same room.

The principles of attachment parenting include preparation for parenting, love and respect, sensitivity, a nurturing touch, loving care, and positive discipline. The goal of attachment parenting is to raise independent, confident children, who go on to become confident adults. Some people practice all of these principles when following attachment parenting, while others pick and choose the ones that work for them, yet still follow the philosophy of providing consistent loving care that aims to build a strong bond.

Building Infant Self-Esteem

As we have discussed, there are several ways that parents and caretakers can go about building self-esteem in even the smallest of people. From the time a baby is born, they are receptive to the world around them and are communicating their needs. When the world responds back to them in a positive way, they will learn to become confident and have a healthy self-esteem.

To help infants build a healthy self-esteem it is important that the adults in their lives are responsive to them and in meeting their needs. When infants consistently get responsive, and nurturing care, they will feel confident, and have a good self-esteem.

Beyond Parents

It is important to note that millions of infants are not with their parents, as many parents need to work. When parents go to work they may have family or friends babysit, or they may take the child to a daycare center. No matter what option they choose, it is important that they ensure that the caretaker that they choose is going to provide the responsive, loving, and nurturing care that an infant needs as they grow. The time an infant spends with a caretaker is also important to their self-esteem.

It is important to screen caretakers, get referrals, and monitor behavior, to ensure that the infant is receiving good care that will help their psychological well being, rather than hinder it. Parents need to choose their infant caretaker carefully, and if they feel that they are not getting the responsiveness they need, they will need to find an alternative.

Moving Ahead

It is clear to see that self-esteem is something that begins in the first days of life, making it crucial that parents and caretakers meet an infant's needs and provide them with the nurturing they need.