How to Help Your Child Develop Healthy Self-Esteem

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Head and shoulders portrait of a Hispanic boy in a forest

To all of us at Westchester Health Pediatrics, helping your child develop and maintain positive, healthy self-esteem is one of our most important jobs as healthcare providers. Not a one-off or a quick fix, working with you and your child throughout the years to nurture good self-esteem, and helping you come up with solutions when issues arise, is a long-term commitment that we take very seriously.

Above all, we’re here for you and your child, with information, advice and guidance so your child and your entire family can be as healthy and happy as possible.

Where does self-esteem come from?

Mason Gomberg-001R WEB72

Mason Gomberg, MD

Self-esteem can be defined as the way in which people perceive themselves—their self-worth (or lack of), strengths and weaknesses, and abilities. In children, self-esteem is shaped not only by their own internal perceptions and expectations but by how they are thought of and treated by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches and friends. The closer their perceived self (how they see themselves) is to their ideal self (how they would like to be), the higher their self-esteem will be.

Self-esteem is your child’s gateway to a lifetime of mental health and social happiness. It is the foundation of a child’s well-being and the key to success as an adult. At any age, how you feel about yourself affects how you act.

Where does self-esteem start? With a child’s parents. Parents need to be good role models for their children and exhibit good self-esteem themselves because their children will follow their example, good or bad.

Lack of a good self-image very often leads to behavior problems

Most behavioral problems that we see in our practice comes from poor self-worth. Why is one child a delight to be around, while another seems withdrawn, angry or depressed? How people value themselves, get along with others, perform at school, achieve at work and relate in marriage all stem from their self-image, and it all begins in childhood.

For positive self-esteem, your child needs to develop the following characteristics:

  1. A sense of security. Your child needs to know he/she is loved and cared for, and to feel secure about himself/herself, his/her place in the family and the future. (“Do I matter?” “Where am I going in life?”) This sense of security starts right after birth with nurturing and caring for your newborns needs and cries.
  2. Belonging. Your child needs to feel accepted by others, beginning with your family and then extending outward to groups: friends, schoolmates, sports teams, religious organizations and clubs. Without this group identity, children can feel lonely and without a “home” or a “group.”
  3. A sense of purpose. Your child can greatly benefit from goals that give him/her purpose, direction and an outlet for achievement and self-expression. Without a sense of purpose, children easily feel bored, aimless and resentful when parents or other authority figures try to push them to achieve goals.
  4. Personal competence and pride. Your child should feel confident in his/her ability to meet the challenges of life. This sense of personal worth evolves from having successful life experiences in solving problems, being creative, achieving goals and getting results for efforts. Setting appropriate expectations, neither too high nor too low, is critical for your child to develop a sense of competence and confidence.
  5. Your child needs to feel trust from you. It’s important for you to keep your promises, be supportive of what he/she is going through in all stages of life, and give your child opportunities to be trustworthy.
  6. Taking responsibility. Regularly give your child opportunities to show what he/she is capable of. Allow him/her to take on tasks without you checking in all the time. This demonstrates trust on your part, a “letting go” due to your confidence in your child’s abilities and competency.
  7. Contributing to something meaningful. Your child will develop a deeper sense of self-worth and belonging when he/she has opportunities to participate and contribute to something in a meaningful way. Encourage your child to get involved in a cause, group or activity that’s important to him/her.
  8. Making real choices and decisions. Your child will feel empowered and more in control of his/her life when he/she is able to make important decisions and experience the outcome of those decisions.
  9. Self-discipline and self-control. As children strive to gain more independence, they need to feel they can do things on their own without parents hovering over them all the time or making decisions for them. Give your child, at any age, opportunities in which to test himself/herself, reason, problem-solve and live with the consequences of their actions. This kind of self-awareness is critical for future emotional growth.
  10. Encouragement, support and reward. All children need positive feedback and recognition—tangible signs that they are doing a good job and growing up. Encourage and praise them, often, not only for achieving a goal but also for the effort it took to take on the task in the first place. If a task is unsuccessful, make sure you state that that’s ok, and turn it into a learning situation.
  11. Accepting mistakes and failures. Your child needs to learn to keep going, not be defeated, when he/she makes mistakes or fails. Explain to him/her that setbacks are part of life, and that the lesson learned can be beneficial going forward. Counterbalance any feelings of failure, guilt or shame with praise, acceptance and encouragement.
  12. Family self-esteem. Your child’s self-esteem starts right in your home, in your family, and is in large part influenced by the perceptions your family has of itself. Family pride is essential to self-esteem and can be nourished and maintained in many ways, including involvement in community activities, tracing your ancestors and valuing relationships with relatives. Families function best when members focus on each other’s strengths, avoid excessive criticism, respect individual differences and show their affection for each other. All this leads to good self-esteem, for everyone.

Worried about your child’s self-esteem? Come see us.

If you would like some advice and guidance on helping your child develop good self-esteem, or if you have questions about any aspects of your child’s health and well-being, make an appointment to come in to see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. Together with you and your child, we’ll talk about what’s going on and come up with ways to strengthen your child’s positive sense of self-worth and value.

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By Mason Gomberg, MD, a Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatrician.

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About the Author: ML Ball