Developing Self-Esteem in Children – Principle #4

Our goal in discussing principles for developing self-esteem in children is to help them go through their developmental stages emotionally intact and with the resilience to handle the complex issues life may  bring. Principle 4 tells how to give our children confidence and a feeling of reasonable control over their lives.

A child needs structure to become secure and strong

A child learns confidence from clear rules and structure.
A child learns confidence from clear rules and structure.

I think anyone who is a caregiver for a child wants that child to be strong, confident, capable and secure as he grows from dependence to independence of adulthood. A child learns confidence from clear rules and structure.

Every child needs rules and structure in his life. He needs to know that certain rules cannot be negotiated or disputed, especially those around safety and morals that are important to and impact the family. An example of this kind of rule is: there will be no verbal or physical hurting of another family member.

It is also important that children are encouraged to make some choices on their own wherever possible, such as: which of two outfits to wear, the type of cereal to eat for breakfast, and what play activities they would like during free time.  Why?  Because one of the most significant part of growing up is making choices, realizing the consequences of those choices and feeling some sense of satisfaction and pride in making those choices. 

What happens when a child’s personal power does not have a chance to develop?

Children who are given some control—or what we at Lakeside call personal power—will gain a sense of confidence at a very early age; whereas, children who are made to feel ineffective will quickly begin to experience shame and a sense of helplessness. This is particularly, true if a caregiver draws attention to a child’s mistake and then, instead of helping the child make amends, makes him feel ashamed, worthless or incompetent.

This principle works for teens, too

Giving teenagers who are struggling with a lot of issues personal power by offering them choices is vital to their ability to change and heal. Lakeside works with many teenagers who have been blamed and shamed, and the idea of giving them choices and allowing them to bear the consequences of those choices, good or bad, without blame or shame, empowers them and begins to foster confidence and change.

I think each of us likes to think we have some level of control in our respective worlds.  When we feel we have no control (or if we feel incapable of making decisions on our own) then we usually have low self-esteem and become dependent on others for our stability in life.  Moreover, we tend to make poor decisions because we base them on our shame or inadequacies rather than the good experiences we have had in learning how to make decisions.

As caregivers, we need to start early and offer children the chance to grow confident by making little decisions. We help them build resilience with encouragement, discussions, humor and discovery.  Then while being in a safe and structured environment to protect them as they learn, our children will emerge with better confidence to make decisions, learn from them and have that personal power and control that builds a healthy sense of self. 

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Research taken from Pathways to Competence,  Second Edition, Sarah Landy, p. 350.


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