"The development of a sense of self is very complex. It is developed from within a person and shaped as well by the people around them."
- Karen DeBord1
When you look at your child, you can see all their grand and wonderful potential—unlimited possibilities where no dream is too big for them. The challenge, then, becomes nurturing in them the same high level of self-esteem and self-worth. But how do you nurture a child to see those same things in themselves? What do you do when the task becomes even more challenging in the toddler years when "No" seems to be the most common word in your (and maybe their) vocabulary?
How to Boost Self-Esteem in Your Child
In his book, Touchpoints: The Essential Reference, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton gives the following suggestions for boosting self-esteem at all ages:
"In any new task, encourage the child, but don't shape it for him or press him. Praise him gently when he succeeds. Let him try out several different ways of doing the same thing, and let him fail until he finds one that works. If he gets in a jam or follows a dead-end course, don't rush to help him. let him discover his predicament, and praise him when he tries again... Never forget the enormous power of frustration to fuel a small child as he searches for mastery and a sense of his own competence."
1-4 months: Lean over the baby to elicit his smiles and vocalizations. As he smiles, you smile. But wwait then for his next smile or vocalization. When he produces his, then reinforce it with a gentle imitation. As he repeats it over and over, watch his face for recognition of his achievements in producing these behaviors. Don't overwhelm him.
4-6 months: As you lean over him, vocalize gently. Wait for him to try to imitate you. When he does repeat it, let your face express your realization of what he's done.
6-8 months: Peekaboo in a way that will elicit his imitation of your play. Then follow him behavior, don't lead.
8-10 months: Using a cloth to play peekaboo, put it on his face, and then let him take over.Feeding
5-8 months: Let him hold a spoon or cup when you feed him.
8 months: Let him begin to pick up two or three small bits of food to feed himself. Don't worry if he drops them.
10-12 months: Let him imitate you with a few sips in a cup and with a spoon. Let him choose his own finger foods, giving him only a few bits at a time.
12 months: Let him continue to feed himself finger food, hold his own bottle, and imitate with a cup.
16 months: Let him use a fork to spear his food. Let him decide whether he wants to eat or not, but don't try out a hundred things to try to please him.Older Children
- Give him occasions for parallel play with peers. Prepare him ahead of time. Don't leave him until he's ready, but encourage him eventually to stay in a play group without you.
- Don't interfere in toddlers' play. Even biting, scratching, and hair pulling can be learning opportunities if you stay out of it. However, don't leave a child over and over again with an overwhelmingly aggressive or passive playmate. He will not learn as much as he will from more equal relationships.
- Don't push him to share his toys. Let other children teach him.
- Encourage him to play independently with siblings or peers. Stay out of their crises.
- Reward him for his successes in learning about others.
- Encourage one or two regular buddies, playmates who come regularly, so that he can get to know them well, to understand and rely on them. They'll give him a feeling of being competent with other people, and they'll teach him to share and to be considerate of others' feelings
Balancing Criticism and Praise
Praise is a crucial element in building your child's self-esteem. Too much praise, however, can overwhelm a child's sense of accomplishment and instead become pressure. A child who feels too much pressure to achieve tends to loose their own sense of curiosity and work rather to please others. Avoid this by paying close attention to your child's ques. If they become irritated with a task, they may be feeling overwhelmed with too much pressure.
On the other hand, too little praise or too much criticism can also be damaging to a child's budding self-esteem. "Criticism can induce passivity rather than energy to solve problems.2" Again, pay attention to your child's ques, becoming overwhelmed with a task may also mean they need some gentle praise and encouragement.
More Resources and Activities:
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What tips or suggestions do YOU have for increasing self-esteem in children?