Developing Self-Esteem in Children – Principle #8

Another principle for helping children to develop a healthy self-esteem brings us a dose of realism. Often we hear of caregivers who try to lift a child’s self-esteem when in fact the characteristics they are helping the child to claim are not realistic. Although telling a child that he possesses qualities he may not possess may seem positive, it is really not the way to build a healthy self-esteem. 

The importance of realistic praise to help a child overcome obstacles

Realistic praise encourages healthy perceptions and self-esteem.
Realistic praise encourages healthy perceptions and self-esteem.

Our next principle establishes a realistic view of self-esteem for the child which helps him cope with experiences of failure. Often, when we discuss self-esteem, we talk of ways to increase it rather than consider how to encourage its accuracy. All children at approximately one-to-two years of age go through a stage in which they think they can do anything. They believe they are all-powerful. 

As a consequence of this belief, some children feel like failures if they cannot do things perfectly, without effort.  They can become very upset that they are unable to perform. If this fallacy perception is not corrected, the child will continue to be egocentric but fragile in his emotions and sense of worth.

The ways to prevent this are two-fold. 

On the one hand, a child needs to experience interest, support, concern and affirmation of himself and what he does with appropriate structure and limits. On the other hand, children need to be allowed to experience failure and to be helped to discover what went wrong and find a way to overcome such obstacles. 

It is critical to send the “You can do it!” message, but it is just as critical to help the child understand that this accomplishment is not magic, but due to persistent, tenacious and problem-solving work.  Success often means overcoming obstacles.

Also, when a child gives up or withdraws from a task and will no longer try, he needs to be told that the “give up” strategy is not acceptable. Help him understand how to put strategies in place to improve subsequent attempts and encourage trying again even over a period of time. 

4 ways to encourage self-esteem with realistic praise

In essence we are looking for a balance to be provided in terms of:

  • Acknowledgement of efforts and persistence
  • Support when things to do not work
  • Encouragement to find new ways or solutions to the problem
  • An emphasis on worthwhile achievements requiring a lot of trying and effort before they are achieved

In this way, children can establish a sense of positive as well as realistic self-esteem. It will teach them to relinquish an unhelpful sense of grandiosity and perfectionism. 

As we help our children learn self-esteem through persistence, we help them establish healthy expectations and release extreme and defeating emotions. This creates a resilience that encourages a life toward balance and confidence in who they are and what they can and cannot do.

It is imperative to a child’s healthy growth and development that he keep a healthy and realistic self-perspective. It is possible to incorporate humor on occasion as they learn so they do not take issues so seriously. It’s all about balance and encouragement. 

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Research taken from Pathways to Competence,  Second Edition, Sarah Landy, p. 351-352p.

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