‘Self esteem’ is, to put it simply, what an individual thinks of himself/ herself. Also known as ‘self-confidence’, self esteem is a key determinant of how we feel about ourselves and the world. It drives our actions and choices and pretty much establishes how we live our lives. Think about that goal you’ve been longing to achieve but haven’t tried to so far. There’s something about that goal which is repulsive…or intimidating. The overt thought is “I want this and don’t want it at the same time.” In several cases, the underlying thought is, “what if I am not able to achieve it??” This ‘what if?’ is so threatening that we choose to ‘camp’ and to stop pursuing that goal.
The lower one’s self esteem, the higher the number of such goals the person is likely to give up. This leads to a vicious cycle. The more goals one gives up, the more he/she will tend to criticize or think poorly of himself/herself…and the lower their self esteem plummets…
The most formative years of self esteem are…you got it right, those of childhood. As much as we keep emphasizing on childhood as the formation of one’s personality as a whole, the intention is not to overwhelm. It is to enhance awareness of those aspects which all of us know of but are not able to focus on. It is to help.
What can I do to nurture my child’s self esteem?
There are several things we as parents can do to raise confident and secure children. However, before we move on to interventions based on interaction with children, let us look into ourselves and understand our reactions to the child:-
POINTS FOR INTROSPECTION:
Distinguish between the child’s successes/failures and your own:
As parents, it is a natural tendency to be concerned about child’s successes, failures and behavior. However, think about this: – do you treat the child’s failures as his failure or your’s? Chances are that unwittingly, deep down, you consider his successes and failures as a sign of your success/failure as a parent. If this happens to you, think on these lines – is it humanly possible to control each outcome for your child? Your child is an individual with a mind of his own. When you were younger, was everything you did a result of your parent’s values/lessons/efforts?? Didn’t you do things that were against these principles despite their constant repetition not to do so? And more importantly, didn’t you have your own reasons for engaging in those behaviors? A child has his own needs and impulses that are separate from what you have ingrained in them. Recognize this. Remember that the child is the owner of his actions and their consequences, not you. You are but facilitators – forces that can provide direction and encouragement to your child, NOT the owners of their behavior.
So the next time your child bawls and throws a tantrum on the street, for example, or delays getting ready to go to school, REMEMBER that it does not necessarily indicate that you have failed to control him/her. It indicates that he/she has some need that is being expressed in this manner, which we must look into. Children in most cases are aware of the negative outcomes of their actions. They know that mom and dad will be angered at their stubbornness or that the school authorities will take action if they are late/misbehave. What then is making them behave in such ways despite knowing this?? In order to delve into these reasons, it is a must for you to realize that your child is a separate personality who functions as per his own needs.
Know how you react to failure
We unknowingly transfer our opinions and reactions onto our kids. Does it hit you hard when your child scores low in math or is pulled up for talking in class? It is but natural to wish well for our children and guide them. However, do events such as these make you anxious, edgy and give you sleepless nights? If they do, chances are high that this anxiety is expressed as anger before the child. Pause and think. Children expect their parents to be angry at their failure, and this provokes intense anxiety in them. A few harsh words can stay in your child’s mind forever. Read this slowly and think about it – Nobody, however young, likes to fail. Most probably, your child is feeling dejected and angry at doing badly or being pulled up in class, irrespective of whether they express it or not. Recognize these feelings in your child and support him or her. Tell him/her you know it must be tough on them to undergo this and that you can think of a future course of action together.
Please remember to put your child’s feelings first. Find out his/ her reactions to failure before asking about their friends’ performances, why they did not study, why they left their papers incomplete or why they spent so much time playing. Remember, a parent who is alert and sensitive to the child’s feelings almost always raises secure and happy children.
THINGS TO REMEMBER WHILE DEALING WITH THE CHILD:
Communicate to them that you love them no matter what
A child is very sensitive to what parents feel about him or her. Remember to caress your child at the end of a bad day and tell him/her that you love him/her despite the fact that you scolded them bad earlier, punished them or complained about them to the neighbor. Affection when consistently expressed has the power to heal the deepest of wounds.
Avoid the words ‘good boy’/ ‘bad girl’
Many of us unwittingly say, “Aren’t you a good girl? Come on, put on your shoes!” or “Such a bad boy you are! Why did you fight with him?” These statements send out strong messages to the child. The child interprets these messages like this – “I am not good if I don’t put my shoes on…I need to do this if to be good, therefore I am not good as I am.” This runs through the child’s mind every time such a statement is made. Over a period of time, “I am not good as I am” is firmly integrated into the child’s mind, lowering his/her self esteem.
Lastly, remember that the ‘effectiveness of effective communication’ is dependent on one’s mindset. Therefore, focus first on adopting a healthy mindset towards your child on the basis of the ‘points for introspection’ mentioned above. Build your communication skills upon the firm foundation that the changed mindset offers you.
Image Credit: jesse.millan
Post contributed by: Malini Krishnan (Psychologist, Inner Space, 2010-2015)