Parents of grade-schoolers hear a lot about the importance of helping their child develop self-esteem, but what is it, really? Self-esteem is your sense of worth as a person – unrelated to particular talents or personality traits.
“Self-esteem comes from having a sense of belonging,” says family therapist Jane Nelsen, coauthor of the Positive Discipline series, “and knowing our contributions are valued and worthwhile.”
Here are some ways you can nurture your child’s self-esteem.
Give love unconditionally
A child’s self-esteem flourishes with the kind of no-strings-attached devotion that says, “I love you, no matter what you do.” Your child benefits the most when you accept him for who he is, regardless of his strengths, difficulties, temperament, or abilities.
Put your phone aside long enough to give your child your undivided attention and answer her questions. Eye contact lets her know that you’re really listening to what she’s saying. This does wonders for your child’s feelings of self-worth because it shows her that you think she’s important.
When you’re strapped for time, let your child know it without ignoring her needs. Say, “Tell me all about what happened at soccer practice. When you’re finished, I need to make our dinner.”
Encourage healthy risk-taking
Inspire your child to explore something new, such as trying a different food, making a new friend, or riding a skateboard. (Activities that promote cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful for building self-esteem.) Though there’s always the possibility of failure, without risk there’s little opportunity for success.
So let your child experiment safely, and resist the urge to intervene. For instance, try not to “rescue” him the minute he shows mild frustration when figuring out how to read a tricky word. You’ll build his self-esteem by prioritizing his need to tackle new tasks.