All parents have an image of how they want their child to “turn out” as an adult. I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t want positive self-esteem to be one of their child’s attributes. However, raising a well-adjusted child is a subject of contention. Here are a few strategies most specialists agree with:
- Get mentally healthy yourself. If you know you have your own self-esteem issues, seek counseling to address those and learn positive coping skills. Children view themselves as an extension of their parent: if you’re well-adjusted, your child will assume that he is also.
- Be responsive to your baby. Babies cannot solve their own issues- they need a caregiver who meets their needs in an appropriate amount of time. The security of having her needs met tells your child that this responsive caregiver loves her. Despite what some people may tell you, you cannot spoil an infant, nor can infants manipulate adults. If you cannot always be with your child during her first two years or so, make sure that the caregivers she has in your absence are highly responsive to her.
- Play with your child. Playing with your child reinforces to them that you love and value him or her. Yes, children want to hear the same book over and over again and play games you find totally boring, but that’s parenting (I often told myself to learn to love building with Legos or learn to love waiting to see the principal. That worked.).
- Be very careful with nicknames. Do not give your child any nickname that implies anything negative, like “Chubby Cheeks” or “Messy Tessy”. Your child will typically internalize that negative message implied to her.
- Encourage your child’s interests, even if they differ from yours. Whether your child loves cooking, athletics, dancing or art, encourage them to pursue their interests and talents. These are part of what makes your child unique. Don’t worry about whether you are artistic or athletic, just support their efforts and get them in front of people who are qualified to develop their skills.
- Be the bouncer. You may remember from your pre-parenting days the bouncer at the club who kicked people out who were detrimental to the club’s environment. Once your child starts socializing with other kids, you need to start screening your child’s peers and potential friends. Does “Classmate A” play well with your son? Do they cooperate and laugh? Are they kind to each other? All kids have disagreements some times, but those should be infrequent, not during most play dates. Once your child starts school, ask teachers who your son or daughter spends time with and how they are doing socially.
- Encourage the kids to play at your house. Yes, it’s messy (except the fridge, which gets very, very clean), but there are many advantages of being a kid-friendly house. You get to monitor your child and you get to know the kids and other parents in your neighborhood. My brother’s son has a friend whose parents are rarely home, so that friend is always allowed at their house, but their son is rarely over at his house. All of this conveys value to your child through your willingness to share this increasingly important area of his life.
- Give your child a moral compass. Once your child starts school, he or she will interact with kids resisted in homes diametrically opposed to yours, and that’s typically a good thing: it prepares your child for the “Real World”. However, this also gives your child choices in behavior when you’re not there. When I was a toddler, I knew the big three rules of our home: we are not allowed to hurt others, things, or ourselves. As I grew, my parents elaborated on what these rules mean at school or with friends. Giving children the skills to handle new situations helps children blossom socially.
- Give your child chores. Determine which household chores your child can do and assign these to him or her every day. Chore charts work wonders here- they eliminate the need for you to question which chores still need to be done. Most experts feel that chores should be given to children without an allowance being tied to them, so don’t feel that if you can’t afford to give an allowance that your kid should be exempt from chores. Chores teach all kids concepts of work ethic and teamwork.