In the early years your child’s world likely consists of loose schedules, playgrounds, hanging out with mom, dad, or caregivers, and free time with little responsibility. All of that changes as your child starts school and enters the real world of structured classes, new friends, and peer groups with birthday party invitations and stickers from teachers given to some while others are left out.
At this stage parents play a central role in positively influencing their child’s self-esteem. It is a time when children start to compare themselves to their peers and increasingly encounter challenges and periodically experience failure, criticism, and rejection. When parents offer unconditional love and create a warm, supportive, environment in which children are treated with respect and acceptance as well as provide structure and fair rules that are consistently reinforced, children develop healthy self-esteem with greater ease.
This type of environment helps children to feel safe, happy, and secure enough to explore beyond their comfort zone. A supportive and warm environment inevitably nurtures a sense of mastery and self-efficacy in your child, antecedents to healthy self-esteem. With a sense of security and a belief that they are unconditionally loved and accepted, children feel more comfortable to engage in behaviours and activities that come with more risk but from which they gain competence and confidence.
As young children go through school, some seemingly sail through while others struggle with the curriculum or have difficulty making friends and “fitting in”. This can negatively impact how your child views and feels about themself. The good news is there are many things you can do to help your son or daughter navigate these challenges and develop healthy self-esteem.
Teach your child to be themself. Let them know they will be liked and respected more when they offer their genuine person to others. Encourage your child to act toward friends and others as they would want to be treated. If your child is having difficulty in a situation, guide them to think about different alternatives and options. It can even be helpful to roleplay these scenarios out together. Teach your son or daughter that they have control over their attitudes and to not allow someone’s negative day ruin theirs. Teach them about dealing with other- and self-negative appraisals by showing them how to reframe them in a more positive, yet realistic way such as, “We didn’t win the game, but my team put in a great effort and we had a fun time.” Correct inaccurate self-perceptions your child reveals to you by helping them set credible standards and be more realistic in their self-evaluations.
At the end of the day, when you are depleted and your patience is low, don’t let homework ruin your evening and the few hours you spend together with your child. Take the time to sit, communicate, and play each day, letting your child talk about anything without distractions. This attention sends the message that your child is important to you, valued as a person, and provides you with the opportunity to be involved, informed, supportive and connected.
Written by: Lindi Ross, M.Ed, PPCC Montreal Therapy Centre