A SENSE OF SELF

As a parent and clinical psychologist I am always disturbed to pick up a newspaper and find a story about young kids getting into trouble with the law. Even more worrying is to then read certain adults’ critical views about what is wrong with children who misbehave.

Why? Because the tragic truth is that many children who regularly misbehave already view themselves in a highly negative way. They may feel inadequate and lack the desire to achieve goals and face challenges. They may also believe bad things about themselves such as that they are just dumb, ugly, stupid, naughty and mean.

Adding to that negativity with a tirade of similar criticisms won’t help the situation.

What we are dealing with here is the concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is the term psychologists use to describe that vital component of every person’s psychological make-up that defines who they are — your value as a person and how good you think you are at doing things and interacting with the world around you.

Children who have healthy selfesteem are likely to be happy, cooperative, successful at school and make friends easily. They are fun people to be around because they are eager to learn and succeed, and because they cope with stress effectively.

However self-esteem doesn’t come built-in at birth. We first learn our view of ourselves during childhood through the interactions we have with the people around us. As parents it is therefore very important that we help our children develop a true sense of their own strengths and weaknesses.

Encouraging self-esteem in children basically comes down to a consistent, positive approach to their upbringing.

Children who receive plenty of praise and encouragement feel good about themselves. A child who believes their parents have confidence in them by allowing them to do certain things by themselves will learn confidence. Telling your child you love them and spending time with them will help your child feel valued and cared for.

It is important also to encourage children to follow a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise and good grooming habits help children develop a positive image of themselves. And when your child achieves at something you can let them know that they should feel good about such accomplishments — it is okay to be different and be good at different things.

But of course, life isn’t always about winning, despite what those sports shoes ads tell you, and it is equally important for the development of healthy self-esteem that children learn how to deal with disappointment.

As a reaction to not getting what they want such as being chosen for a team, children may sometimes put themselves down, saying things like “I’m dumb, you hate me,” or “I’m just stupid.” If this happens, try to avoid being too sympathetic, instead encourage your child to try again after the set-back and to enjoy the activity or game even if they aren’t the winner.

Rather than simply reassuring your child that everything will be alright, you can help your child develop their own sense of worth by letting them know that you understand their feelings of disappointment and that you are there to help them work out a reasonable way of dealing with that disappointment.

Remember too, when helping your child achieve in some activity to concentrate on effort not results. Praising your child for trying and making an improvement will motivate them to continue trying at a difficult task.

Parenting Tip

Laughter really is a great medicine. Children who feel good about themselves laugh spontaneously, develop a sense of humor and learn to tell funny stories. Encourage your child to laugh by listening to their stories, playing games and having fun together.

 
Dr. Matthew Sanders is a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia and founder of the Triple P - Positive Parenting Program.