We have been discussing how a caregiver might build self-esteem in children. I have listed nine principles in my last post that we will expand in the next few posts. Principle #1 is to show unconditional love, and let the child know that he or she is valued and accepted.
How might one apply the first principle to develop self-esteem in children?
Most significant to this principle is that a child needs to know that she (or he) is loved because of who she is. Too often caregivers can convey that a child is loved because of what he does. That subtle message makes the critical difference in communication. So, to accept a child is to convey that no matter what happens, the caregiver will be there and be supportive of the child.
There are lots of ways to show unconditional love. You can spend time with the child, use body language and facial expressions to show interest and joy in just being with him or her. Positive time spent with the child will also provide great memories to recall over a lifetime.
Moreover, when a child feels noticed for his or her special qualities and characteristics, it can translate to a higher sense of value and self-worth. Even as a child matures, continuing to show trust in his capabilities and notice of his growing self-sufficiency can encourage his sense of being loved and valued.
The bane of conditional love
Conditional love can leave a child feeling as if he can never be good enough to be accepted, which will invariably result in poor self-esteem.
Conditional love requires the child to earn acceptance by doing rather than by being. Some conditions include requiring good behavior, always displaying a cheerful disposition, or showing how quickly he can learn the alphabet—subjective “rewards” based on the caregiver’s “conditions.”
If conditional expectations are the typical determinants of being valued, the child may develop a “false self” which will make it quite difficult for the child to be authentic, and consequently, develop positive self-esteem.
So, caregivers of children, please be careful how you communicate a child’s value to him or her. If you are speaking to the child with words solely based on performance, you may be creating an incorrect sense of the child’s value.
We want our children to be loved for who they are. Yes, we can affirm the things they do well, because everyone needs to be affirmed from time to time. But we must be careful that our children are loved for who they are and not what they do. It is a challenging but important distinction to make, but one which will result in a completely different and healthy self-perception.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some research taken from Pathways to Competence, Second Edition, Sarah Landy, p. 348.