By SHAMALA VELU
Children who feel good about themselves have a strong sense of self-esteem and are likely to do better in school. They socialise easily with their peers and are better at handling complex situations.
Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves (having a good or bad opinion of ourselves). Though it can vary from time to time, self-esteem tends to develop from childhood and progresses into our adult life. Parents play a big role in shaping a child's self-esteem.
Child psychologist Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng, who is also president of the Early Childhood Care and Education Council, says: “Everyone needs positive self-esteem in order to function effectively in society.
“As a parent, you can influence and shape your children's self-esteem. In fact, you are the first and most important person to nurture their self-esteem.”
Love and acceptance
Like adults, children know they are being loved by the way we interact with and treat them. For a child to feel loved, parents need to be responsive to their needs.
“Hug the child who needs assurance, or who needs to be comforted. Listen attentively to your child without being judgmental,” says Dr Chiam, who is a well-known authority on child development and early childhood education.
|Parents are the first and most important people to help nurture a child's self-esteem. They can do so by letting them know they are loved unconditionally.
According to her, some of the common mistakes parents make are:
- Only wanting to listen to what they want to hear, or not paying attention while their child is saying something important to them.
- Not spending enough time with their child. (If there is more than one, parents should not neglect the others, while focusing on one.)
- Not being there for the child. (Children need to know they are an important part of their parent's life.)
Shaping children's self-esteem
To help children develop a healthy self-esteem and respect for themselves, Dr Chiam advises parents to do the following:
- Provide unconditional love. Giving children full support in times of difficulties is the best thing a parent can do for a child. It is not about bringing home good grades.
- Don't discriminate and be fair with all the children. Favouritism is a big no-no.
- Discipline children but give them room to grow as well. This gives them a sense of security.
- Respect children as individuals. Parents should know their individual child's strengths, capabilities and weaknesses. Give them opportunities to develop their strengths without condemning or criticising their weaknesses.
- Do not make comparisons or hold his/ her siblings or others as the benchmark.
“When parents discipline, children feel they are being loved. However, when parents have a laissez-faire attitude towards their children, you will see that these children sometimes misbehave or get themselves into trouble to attract attention,” adds Dr Chiam.
It is important that parents discipline, teach good values and nurture their children during the formative years as it will be difficult to change them when they are older.
Signs of healthy and unhealthy self-esteem
When adults and children don't feel good about themselves, their self-esteem and confidence start to weaken. This in turn can affect the way we function, including our relationships with others.
“Our loss of confidence can result in an unwillingness to try or face challenges and it can be detrimental,” she says.
Children with low self-esteem may shy away from wanting to try new things. They may have a negative outlook and may get frustrated easily. Children with low self-esteem may think that things cannot improve. They then become frustrated and pessimistic.
The bad news is, it will not be easy for a child to come out of it once they have developed low self-esteem. Being able to help children with low self-esteem depends on how deeply he or she is entrenched in his or her sense of worth.
“However, you can build up a child's confidence slowly by giving them tasks that they are capable of achieving,” she says.
|Dr Chiam: 'Children who have low self-esteem generally have parents who do not pay enough attention to them.'
A child with positive self-esteem enjoys being with others and likes challenges. He or she will be capable of handling or finding solutions and have a more optimistic outlook.
“Children who have low self-esteem generally have parents who do not pay enough attention to them. They are unable to develop a strong bond and healthy relationships. Instead of working on strengthening the parent-child bond, some parents make unrealistic expectations and criticise their children,” says Dr Chiam.
Challenges parents face
She admits that every generation has its unique challenges. Today, children have the liberty to do many things while their parents are working to make ends meet. Many parents today feel they have little control over their children when they reach their teens. In fact, they have to adjust and adapt to their children's needs instead.
According to her, the important thing is to impart values that are important to you and your family. If parents value and enhance their self-esteem with materialistic goods, then their children will follow suit.
“If parents value good character and traits such as honesty and integrity, then children are less likely to be caught up with peer pressure in school or living up to the Joneses. Parents play a big part in what they want their children to be,” she points out.
Ways to boost your child's self-esteem
Dr Chiam gives this advice to parents:
- Speak well of your children and praise them whenever you can. Take the time to notice good behaviour rather than always focusing on bad behaviour.
- Help your child when he or she makes mistakes. Guidance gives children the security and confidence to explore new horizons.
- Disciplining a child is better than nagging. Allow your child to realise the consequences when they don't comply with house or family rules. It has a positive effect on behaviour rather than a parent nagging all the time.
- If you need to change a child's behaviour, stay focused on the behaviour and don't scold the child unnecessarily.
- Give your child recognition for any effort he makes. If he fails, encourage him to try again.
- Help your child develop communication skills.
- Pay attention to your child and his/her school schedule and activities before they reach their teens. If you start when they're young, it's normal and is less likely to be viewed as interfering when they become teenagers.
- Last but not least, do things together as it strengthens the family bond.