Having great self esteem or a positive self concept is our birthright, however that may not be our reality. The way that we see ourselves is developed during our childhood, and if we didn’t receive the right type of nurturing, we may not feel as confident as we would like to as adults.
If you do have a child, there are many things that you can do to help them grow into confident and happy adults. As a parent, teacher, or other significant adult, giving consistent positive feedback, both verbally and non-verbally, is the most important thing that we can do for a child’s well-being.
If children are not raised with a consistent demonstration of unconditional love they may have low-self esteem, which can even follow them into adolescence and adulthood.
Children need attention and applause not just around what they do but around who they are. Words like “you’re so loveable, I love spending time with you” are some examples. This lets children know that they are valued, no matter what type of behavior they are exhibiting.
Just as important as what we say to our child is what we communicate with our bodies. For instance, if we can smile when we first greet our child, this will let them know that we are glad to see them.
Alternatively, scooping them up and offering a hug can also show our love. Try speaking to children with an open body stance versus crossed arms. A genuine smile versus a scowl will also tell your child how you feel about them.
A lot of the new research suggests that one way to build self-esteem is to let older kids know that our love is unconditional, not based on their behavior at school or otherwise.
If a child has received consistent positive feedback when young, once they are older, we can find other ways to encourage good self esteem. One way to do this is not to praise for something that we think of as “good” behavior, but instead to let the child know that their own opinion is valid.
For instance, instead of only saying “what a great painting”, we can also ask questions about the painting, perhaps pointing out “I see that you used a lot of blue in this painting. Can you tell me more about that?”
These types of questions encourage the child to become secure in their own beliefs and opinions, and not to be dependent only upon our praise before they can feel good about an activity or accomplishment.
Another part of unconditional love is actually telling our children that we love them, no matter what. This may sound simple, but how often does it sound like we only love them when they get good grades, or when they share their toys, or pick up their room?
We know that we love them all of the time, “good” or “bad”, and we need to let them know. We want to make sure that we are praising the effort and the child. For instance, “I see that you worked very hard on this, this is great.”
Allowing Your Children To Experience Hardship
Another more recent concept in building self-esteem is to allow our children to fail. In fact, studies show that in order for children to succeed, they absolutely need to fail, and to be allowed to feel as if failing is okay.
Carol Dweck, researcher and expert on children’s mindsets for learning and success, says that “dedication and persistence in the face of obstacles are key ingredients in outstanding achievement”.
If we can remember here that it’s important for a child to feel as if they can overcome the obstacle themselves, without our help, they will be well on their way to happiness.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up For Past Parenting
If you feel as if you would like to change things about your parenting style, there is no need to feel guilty about our past mistakes. Simply resolve to do better in the future and go forward happily with your child. Guilt serves no positive purpose.
Self Esteem Building for Adults.
So we’ve learned some great ways to build up a child’s self esteem. But what if, as an adult, you still suffer from low self esteem? All is not lost. It will take real work on your part to feel better about yourself, however it can be done!
- Surround with yourself people who think highly of you and who verbalize that opinion.
- Eliminate those people in your life who criticize and give you negative feedback. Even if they are family – there is no law that says you have to go to Sunday dinner with your family every week.
- When you receive a compliment, really take it in as opposed to dismissing it, even if you don’t believe the compliment. Give yourself a moment to breathe in the words and try to feel what it would be like if you did believe it.
- Practice saying “thank you” instead of “that’s not true” or “no big deal” when you receive a compliment. Brushing off compliments further cements low self-esteem.
- Mirror Work: First, find a positive quality in yourself that you really believe, something like “I have a genuine heart” or “I am a great teacher.” Then, look into the mirror, stare into your eyes, and repeat that phrase. Do this on a regular basis. It requires consistency, but you are learning to reparent yourself, beginning to give yourself the corrective help you need. Initially this might feel silly or awkward, however the more you do it, eventually, you will start to believe the truth of your words.
Noticing How We Are Thinking
What we tell ourselves, whether in the form of our thoughts or out loud, has a very significant impact on self esteem. If what we are telling ourselves is positive, it can boost self esteem.
However, sometimes we think negative things about ourselves, and we have to start to notice this. It might even be very subtle, things like “I can’t believe I just did that.” Even a sentence like that, though, will gradually erode our self-esteem.
The Difference Between What We Do And Who We Are
So often, too, we tend to measure or define ourselves based on what we do or don’t do, as opposed to who we are. For example, we say things like, “I’m not good at math” or “I’m not technically savvy”, as opposed to: “I’m heart-censored”, “I have integrity”, or “I’m compassionate”.
All of those negative things that we tell ourselves tend to destroy our sense of self, too, but if we can begin to recognize these patterns, we will be on our way to better emotional health.
If you have worked on increasing your self-esteem, but haven’t had much luck, speaking with an experienced psychotherapist can be a great way to learn about what’s holding you back in life.
From positive thinking tools to working through childhood wounds, a therapist will work with you on building a happier, more confident “you”. At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we have worked with many people on precisely these concerns, and have helped our clients to feel better about themselves.
We welcome you at any point in your journey to happiness!