Sunday January 27, 2013
By Assoc Prof Dr M. SWAMENATHAN
Self-esteem issues in children and how parents can deal with it.
SELF-esteem is the way we feel about ourselves. Children with positive self-esteem generally feel good about themselves, and feel they have a lot to offer. In contrast, children with low or poor self-esteem generally feel worthless, and feel that they have little to contribute.
Building self-esteem in children is part of positive parenting, and you encourage your child to develop a positive self-esteem. Helping your child develop a healthy dose of confidence and self-esteem is preferable to tackling the problem after he has developed low self-esteem.
Usually, children with low self-esteem tend to be less happy, and are emotionally less fulfilled as well.
Signs to watch out for
A child with low self-esteem is likely to display the following characteristics:
·Feels isolated and unloved
·Tends to avoid new and different situations
·Unable to cope well with failures and criticisms
·Tends to put himself down and constantly compares himself to peers in a negative way
·Feels his efforts will never be as good as others
These traits can happen as a result of many factors, but are mainly due to a lack of affirming, positive feedback from others, particularly parents and teachers.
Children with low self-esteem may go on to develop emotional disorders. If this happens, they may exhibit behavioural changes such as:
·Frequent temper tantrums
·Decline in academic performance
·Frequent complaints of physical symptoms (headache, stomachache) with no physical cause
If one or more the symptoms mentioned above persists or occurs frequently, professional help needs to be sought.
Recently, there has been much debate regarding the difference in parenting styles practised in Eastern and Western cultures. It is felt that Western-style parenting allows for the views and opinions of the child to be heard and not brushed aside so that the child can feel that he or she is a significant member of the community.
In comparison, the Asian style of parenting usually adopts the practice where children are usually “seen and not heard”, thus curbing their sense of self.
In essence, parenting style is very important as it can influence children’s self-esteem and shape their characters and personalities.
Self-esteem should not be confused with arrogance. A child with a healthy self-esteem believes in his abilities (“I have the potential to achieve it, I believe in myself”) and at the same time does not underestimate other children. An arrogant child will be boastful (“only I can do it”) and will not acknowledge the capabilities of others.
Ten ways to build self-esteem and confidence
As a general guide, here are 10 ways you can help your child build up self-esteem and confidence:
1. Encourage resilience.
Your love and encouragement will go a long way to boost your child’s self-esteem. Be sure to give your child as much positive encouragement as you can when they have done a good job or put forth a lot of effort.
This is doubly important if they have tried hard and failed. As children grow and develop, they are affected and shaped by people’s opinions – especially their parents’. Your reactions and words will either give them the confidence to believe they can do anything or convince them that they are worthless.
By loving and accepting your child unconditionally, you will reassure and teach them that, with the right support, they can be or do anything.
2. Praise your child’s achievements.
Acknowledge your child’s achievements. When you praise your child, be sure that your praise is sincere. Remember that the quality of the praise is more important than the quantity.
Too much praise can also be counter-productive as your child can find it belittling; the unspoken message to them is that they need to constantly have their parent’s approval all the time, and on top of that, they need constant validation.
3. Give your children some freedom and responsibility based on their age.
Let your children have the chance to make their own decisions and bear the responsibility of their actions.
You can guide them if they need your help, but let them deal with adversity on their own to encourage a sense of pride and independence.
4. Trust in your child.
After giving your child some freedom and responsibility, you will also need to trust them as well.
Beware of hypocrisy, and never undermine that trust by making the mistake of checking up on them or interrogating them about their freedom/responsibilities at every turn.
This gives them the impression that their freedom/responsibility is just something that you are only giving lip service to, and it will lead to a loss of trust in you.
5. Never belittle your child’s shortcomings.
Nothing is more damaging to a child’s sense of self-worth than to have someone belittle them, especially if it is their own parents.
Never make jokes about their physical defects, appearance, or efforts as you may end up doing a lot of psychological harm, which could have far-reaching consequences.
6. Seek their opinions.
Involve your children in day-to-day decisions when possible; what to do on weekends, where to eat, what to cook, where to go for holidays, and so on.
By making them a part of the family’s decision-making process, you are effectively empowering their self-esteem and validating their voice in the family.
7. Don’t compare
Never compare your child with other children or siblings who are faring better, or ridicule, insult or instill guilt in them, and then resort to harsh punishment in the wake of failure. Your child must be made to realise that it is all right to fail sometimes, and with a healthy sense of self-esteem, he or she can bounce back from failures.
8. Don’t make negative comments repeatedly.
Trying to “shock” your child by making negative comments is counter-productive. Instead of making your child strive to overcome his shortcomings by using negative comments, encourage him instead. Negative comments contribute to the erosion of his sense of confidence and lowers his self-esteem.
9. Encourage your child to express emotions.
Allow your child to develop a comfortable balance in conveying and controlling feelings. Teach her to control her emotions when necessary, but not to the extent of bottling it up. Acknowledge her feelings, regardless of whether it is fear, anger, sorrow, or joy, and use it to teach her.
Failure to acknowledge her emotions on your part could lead to your child feeling that you don’t care to understand her feelings.
Your child may feel that if her feelings are not worth your acknowledgement, she isn’t worthy of your attention either.
This will slowly lead to your child suppressing her feelings and hiding them from you.
10. Be role model for your child.
Children typically learn by emulating their parents, so if you’re excessively harsh on yourself or hesitant about your abilities and limitations, your child may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your child will have a great role model.
Knowing when to get professional help
If you suspect that your child has low self-esteem despite your best efforts, consider getting professional help. Family and child counsellors can work together with you to uncover the underlying issues causing your child’s low self-esteem.
Therapy can help kids learn to view themselves and the world positively. When kids see themselves in a more realistic light, they can accept who they truly are.
With a little help, every child can develop a healthy self-esteem for a happier, more satisfying life.
Associate Professor Dr M. Swamenathan is a consultant psychiatrist. This article is a courtesy of Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting Programme. The opinions expressed in the article are the view of the author. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.