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Building healthy self-esteem

Dr Asha Pemberton-Gaskin

Building healthy self-esteem

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MOST PARENTS don’t realize how easy it is to damage their child’s self-esteem. Very often a child’s feeling of self-worth is linked to social and academic success.
Research shows that a main factor contributing to a child becoming resilient is the presence of at least one adult who helps the child to feel special and appreciated. Parents must be aware that they are intrinsic to helping to build their child’s self-esteem, especially as it advances into its teen years. Here are some steps parent can take.  
Be careful with your words
Children are very sensitive to parents’ words, and this is also true in adolescence.  Praise your child not only for a job well done, but also reward effort and completion instead of only outcome. Always show respect and love for your children.
Be a positive role model
If you are excessively harsh, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your child may eventually mirror that behaviour. So it’s important that parents nurture their own self-esteem.
Set realistic and age-appropriate expectations
It is important for parents to identify their own unrealistic expectations of their children and teens; whether it is about perfection, attractiveness or ability. Help young people set realistic standards for themselves.
Give children responsibility and purpose
Give your child a chance to show their capabilities. Allow them to take on appropriate tasks, both at home, church and school and make an effort. Your child needs to trust their own abilities. Activities which encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful. A sense of contribution to school, church and community all reinforce a sense of purpose and belonging.
A safe, loving home environment
Children who feel unsafe or are abused will suffer immensely from low self-esteem. A child who is exposed to parents who fight and argue may become depressed and withdrawn. Always be on watch for signs of abuse by others, problems in school or with peers. Deal with these issues sensitively but swiftly.
Encouragement and support
Not only does your child need to achieve, but they also need positive feedback and recognition. Encourage and praise them, not only for achieving a goal but for their efforts; even small changes and improvements. Provide feedback as soon as possible to connect your comments to the activity involved.
Accepting mistakes and “failure”
Children need to feel comfortable, not defeated, when a mistake is made. Explain that setbacks are a normal part of living and learning.  Provide supportive, constructive feedback. Recognize their efforts and reduce any sense of guilt, or shame. Give them renewed motivation and hope so that they are encouraged to try again.
During the teen years
Choices and decisions
Teens feel empowered and in control of events when they are able to make or influence decisions considered important. These decisions need to be appropriate for their age, abilities, and for the family’s values.
Self-discipline and self-control
As your teen strives to gain more independence, they need to feel that they can use their skills appropriately. Once you create a foundation of expectations and guidelines, allow them to reflect, reason and problem-solve. They will learn to consider the consequences of the actions they choose. This self-awareness is critical for future growth.
It is important for adolescents to develop a positive self-image and accept their unique physical characteristics. During adolescence low self-esteem develops from comparisons to unrealistic ideals perpetuated in peer groups and the media. Parents play a vital role in teaching self-acceptance and self-love which are the cornerstones of healthy self-esteem.
Competence and pride
In order to feel confident in their ability to meet life’s challenges, teens require opportunities to have experiences and to solve problems independently. Personal power evolves from meeting a challenge, thinking creatively and finding a solution. Setting appropriate expectations (not too low and not too high) is critical to developing competence and confidence.
Healthy positive self-esteem is part of the foundation of positive child and youth development. With love, respect, support and experience, children and teens will be challenged and succeed in reaching their full potential.
• Dr Asha Pemberton Gaskin is a local paediatrician and specialist in adolescent medicine.