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child’s sense of self-worth is a major factor in deciding your child’s future. How they feel about themselves will affect their choice of friends, how they get along with others, and how they develop their potential. Their self-esteem influences all aspects of their lives.

Your child’s self-esteem is a precious thing and should be handled with great care. It is crucial for your child’s healthy development and future well being. It is also has a great deal to do with how your child behaves now and later.

Here some helpful hints to foster a sense of self-worth while protecting a child’s self-esteem:

See negative behavior in the context of who your child is.

Focus only on changing behavior that is important to change, i.e. behavior that isolates or harms him/her or disrupts the family. You don’t need and should not want to change everything about your child to fit your “specs.” Again, your job is to make your child feel valuable and build self-esteem.

Use the language of self-esteem.

Describe the behavior without judging the child so that you distinguish between the child’s worth and his/her behavior. Describing behavior gives him/her accurate feedback about actions and how actions affect the child and others. By not labeling a child as good or bad, you separate appraisals of behavior from basic value or worth.

Share the reasons behind your reactions. It is easier for children to meet expectations and/or avoid conflict when they understand why you react they way you do. Validate your child’s experience so that he/she feels seen and understood as a worthy person even when behavior is being corrected.

Praise without overpraising to build self-esteem.

Praise is what gives children the message that they are accepted and appreciated. They learn to praise themselves and recognize and value their own efforts and talents. On the other hand, overpraise creates pressure to be the “smartest, best, most wonderful kid ever,” a set-up for eventual failure.

Avoid backhanded praise. This mixes praise and insult.

Say, “I’m glad you got it done,” instead of, “It’s about time.”

Try, “You look good in blue,” instead of, “I’m glad you are wearing something besides all that black you and your friends like.”

Discipline and set limits to build self-esteem.

Children who are not disciplined can not grow up with high self-esteem. They tend to feel more dependent and also feel that they have less control over their world.

Children will run into disapproval and cruelties in the world. They need the physical and emotional protection of rules and limits to grow self-esteem.

When you give your child acceptance and he/she can see you really see, value, and appreciate him/her, you have provided armor against drugs, unhealthy relationships, and delinquency.

The more you praise your child, the more self esteem your child will have. This is correct, isn’t it?

Not necessarily. Kids have a way of knowing if they have truly earned your acclaim or if you are manipulating them.

Moreover, children can even be confused by excessive praise.

Example: you call your son a “genius.” He thinks:

* “Does anyone else feel that way about me?”
* “It’s too much work to be a genius.”
* “She knows I’m not a genius.”

Example: your unrealistic praise is way out of line. Your child knows he is not that good. He wonders what you want or discounts much of your praise as being ridiculous.

Example: to cheer your daughter on, you don’t mention the difficulties (or much of the truth) about her performance in soccer. She does not make the team and is crushed out of proportion primarily because you told her there was nothing to making the team.

If you want to be accurate as well as being complimentary, practice these steps:

1. Explain that your child has done well and can do even better next time.

2. Don’t answer a statement of dissatisfaction with praise. Instead, acknowledge the feelings shown and help your child plan for a better performance next time.

Remember that the best praise for your children is praising their own judgment.

Of course, that can’t always happen. Sometimes their judgment, or society’s judgment as mirrored in their eyes, is not the best action or accomplishment to praise.

Example: your six-year-old daughter spends much too much time in front of a mirror. She’s cute. You know it and she knows it. However, the mirror needs a rest and your daughter certainly needs to know there is more to life than appearance. Yet your daughter and all children need to know their looks are acceptable.

So what do you say when you find your daughter staring away at her reflection?

Try saying, “You look nice today, Letha, but I am really proud of your gymnastics (drawing, etc.) this morning. How did you do that so well?”

Proper Discipline Adds Self-Esteem.

The importance of seeing and accepting your child as he/she is can’t be stressed enough in order to foster their self-esteem. There are other factors that contribute to self-esteem in children. The two most important of these factors are discipline and setting limits for your kids.

Children who are not disciplined, who do not have limits, can not grow up with high self-esteem. They tend to be more dependent and feel that they have less control over their world. Kids, just like adults, are more confident when they feel they have control.

Children will run into disapproval and cruelties in the world. They need the physical and emotional protection of rules and limits for self-esteem.

Use positive discipline. Children who are disciplined with only negative consequences or through negative talk may learn to behave but they often do it with a grudge against parents and with little internal self-esteem.

Gear discipline toward the age of your child. Your child at two needs a different kind of discipline that he/she will at five, ten, and fifteen years of age. In fact, each additional year of age will have you giving up control of your child’s life to your child. Letting your child control his/her life in a manner suitable to age, is one more way to grow self-esteem.

In addition, school age children transfer more and more allegiance from their family to their peer group each year. By the time your child is a young teen-ager you will have powerful competition from the peer group. That is the way it will be, like it or not. At this point your prior discipline should lead your teen-ager to self-control.

A young teen also needs independence. Teen-agers rarely need as much independence as they want, but they do need an increasing opportunity to make their own decisions, and yes, even their own mistakes. The less willing you are to grant some independence to your teen, the more likely he or she is to rebel and take that independence anyway.

Independence means they leave home before age 40! And this is good…

Use the Language of Self-Esteem.

Language is a powerful esteem builder. If fact, it can build or destroy self-esteem.

There is a “language” of self-esteem.

Correct children using the language of self-esteem. Use the words “decide” and “choice” often. Stress the consequences of choices. Discuss the behavior, not the child.

Criticism lowers self-esteem while having choices and control raises self-esteem.

Don’t say, “You didn’t wash the dinner dishes again. You always live like a dirty person.”

To use the language of self-esteem, follow these steps when correcting children (always remembering that you want your child to think he/she is a valuable person):

1. Describe the behavior in nonjudgmental language such as, “The dishes are still in the sink.”

2. Give a simple, to-the-point reason for the behavior change such as, “I need clean dishes for dinner tonight.”

3. Acknowledge the child’s feelings, motive, or situation by saying something like, “I know you want to see Tommy again today.”

4. Using clear language, provide a statement of what is expected such as, “I want the dishes clean by 6 o’clock this afternoon.”

5. State a clear consequence for not completing your request such as, “If you choose to leave the dishes dirty after six tonight, you are deciding to stay home alone this entire week-end.”

Always stress to your children that life is a series of choices. No one is responsible for their choices, decisions, and actions but the child.

Utilize the words “choose” and “decide” to get this message across using the language of self-esteem. Discuss the action, not the child.

When your son decides to keep playing with Tommy and he decides to leave the dishes in the sink past the five o’clock deadline, he also made a decision to stay home for the week-end. His choice, his decision, his consequence. His increased self-esteem which you have bolstered using the language of self-esteem.

Rule of Three in Discipline and Self-Esteem.

Unless something is threatening the safety of your child, never try to get across more than three discipline points at any one particular time in his/her life.


1. It is hard to develop self-esteem when you constantly hear the word “no.”

2. Consistency in discipline is all important. It is easier to be consistent when focused on fewer discipline situations.

Choose three habits or situations that need discipline in your child and work on those until you feel each discipline situation is under control. As each discipline situations is under control, you add another discipline. If you try to “fix” everything at once, you will constantly be saying “no.” Again, a constant “no” is NOT the way to build self-esteem in children.

When you choose your three situations to discipline, be careful to choose situations that benefit the child rather than making you feel or look good.

Another important factor of the rule of three involves consistency. Nothing is more important for making discipline work and thus, building self-esteem than consistency. It is possible to be consistent about three discipline situations. It is almost impossible to be consistent about ten discipline situations. You are human!

Try to avoid needing discipline while building self-esteem. One way to do this is to promote a feeling of success by letting your child know what to expect in any new situation. Well-explained events become adventures rather than scary trips into the unknown. Confident children need less discipline. Successful adventures and new situations keep adding to self-esteem.

Teach your children the skills necessary for success. Set your kids up for success. Children were not born knowing how to make the bed, write a report, or set the table. When they do these chores incorrectly, that is not the time for discipline. Rather it is time for a self-esteem-building lesson.

Be patient. Allow time for them to go slowly in new situations. A few small, slow steps avoid the need for discipline while adding self-esteem now and later.

Make it safe to fail. Praise your child’s willingness to try rather than praising the result of the first attempt. Then she will be more likely to try again or accept a new challenge.

When a child faces something new and succeeds, her self-esteem grows. If, most of the time, he hears, “yes” or “try it,” his self-esteem grows.

Keep remembering to focus on changing behavior that harms your child. You don’t change things about your child to make him/her conform to your “specs.”

William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N., in their book The Discipline Book write, “No discipline book would be worth its price without a section on self-esteem. Yet we fear that parents misunderstand the meaning of this concept and feel that this is one more thing they are required to give their child along with regular meals and a warm winter jacket. They guard against anything that may undercut self-esteem–to the point where it becomes ridiculous.”

They continue, “You can’t build your child’s self-esteem compliment-by-compliment, activity-by-activity.”

The authors feel parents are already overloaded with guilt because they may not be doing enough to foster self-esteem. They conclude, “You don’t need a degree in psychology to raise a confident child. Much of parenting is easy and fun. Hold your baby a lot, respond sensitively to her needs, enjoy your baby. Then sit back and enjoy the person whose self-esteem is developing naturally.”



November 2008
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