Promoting Self- Esteem In Girls
Parenting is tough. You’re doing your best to take care of your children’s physical needs, but taking care of their emotional needs may be more difficult for you. Even more daunting is helping your child have positive self-esteem. Self-esteem could be something you are currently struggling with and want to make sure your children do not also struggle with it, or you may have noticed your child is viewing herself negatively. Where do you start?
“Helping your children grow up with strong self-esteem is the most important task of parenthood” (McKay, 2000, p. 279). Self-esteem is a building block for your child’s identity, performance, and self-worth. Therefore, nurturing and building your child’s self-esteem is important for their future success. If you have not realized your importance in your child’s self-esteem as a parent, you are not alone! It is never too late to work on building your child’s self-esteem. The following is adapted from the chapter entitled Building Self-Esteem in Children by Judith McKay in the book Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-esteem.
You Are a Mirror
Most likely you have heard this before: your children will follow your behavior. If you yell when you are mad, they will most likely yell when they are upset. If you call yourself fat, your child may question if she is fat too. It is extremely important to set a good example for your children to follow. This includes speaking nicely to yourself and about yourself. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, this negative talk may be repeated by your child.
Also, your children crave your attention and affection. Spending time with them and giving them your undivided attention, when needed, communicates you love and care about them. Communicate to your children your love despite their actions. You may not always agree with what they choose to do, but your children should know you will always love them (McKay, 2000).
Seeing the Positive and the Negative
As your child’s parent, you may not always see her in the most accurate way. Whether you put her on a pedestal or only see the bad in your child, it is important you work on viewing her from an accurate lens. An exercise that is helpful with this is writing down how you would describe your child to someone else (McKay, 2000). Include the good, the bad, personality characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, positive attributes, negative attributes, and anything you can think of. It may be helpful to continue to add to the description over a few days time.
After completing a description of your child, plan out how to praise your child for her positive attributes and correct those behaviors that do not promote self-esteem. When praising your child, wait for an opportunity when she has done something that reminds you of a positive attribute. For example, if your daughter Paige tells a funny joke, you could say “Paige that was very funny. I love your sense of humor. You are very good at making others laugh and feel happy.” You do not want to focus or obsess about the negative behaviors you notice in her. If there are certain behaviors that are harmful, make sure to communicate this to your child when you notice the behavior. We will discuss how to do this later in the article. Make sure you are not just focusing on the negative, as it will do the opposite of improving self-esteem.
The following are some helpful tips for listening to your child on a daily basis and to promote self-esteem (McKay, 2000, pp. 288-289):
What is the topic of the story? If you are a parent, you know when your child tells you a story it may be difficult to identify what she is really talking about. Children have a tendency to talk about one topic, switch to a different topic, and maybe even switch topics again. Therefore, it is imperative you be able to identify what the topic of the conversation is about and understand what your child wants to communicate about this topic. For example: Your seven year old daughter comes to you looking upset. She states, “At school today Maddie told me my hair looked funny. I got mad and told her to stop saying that! She did not stop! I got really mad, so I walked away and swung on the swings. Then, in school I missed five on my spelling test! I thought I knew all my spelling words. When I got home today, my little brother told me I was ugly.”
What do you think the point of this story was? If you guessed the story was about Maddie having a bad day and feeling mad and upset, you would probably be right. It might be easy in this story to focus on Maddie, the spelling test or the comments others made about her. While these details are important to understand and relate to, they are not the main point of the story.
Do not try to “fix it.” In the example above, your first instinct would be to try to fix your daughter’s problems. Maybe you would help her study more for her spelling test or tell your son not to make fun of his sister. While these are good things to do, this is not what your daughter needs at this moment. She needs you to put your “fix it” mentality aside and simply listen and understand how she is feeling. If you try to fix it, she will get frustrated and feel you do not understand her.
Acknowledge emotion. Let your child know you are listening to them by reflecting, summarizing, or repeating back what you heard them say. This may not seem helpful, but even if you simply repeat what you heard your child say helps her feel heard. Make sure to reflect the emotion you are hearing from your child and let her know you care. Also, you may give them a hug or a pat on the back if it feels helpful.
“It sounds like you were mad and upset today because you had a bad day. Tell me more about what happened.”
After your child continued the story, you could reflect back any more emotion your child expressed and communicate you care about her and the emotion.
Praise Your Child. When you see or appreciate something about your child, make sure to tell her. Be honest with your child. Do not just praise your child to praise them. When you complement them, it should be genuine. If you over praise your child, it can make them feel uncomfortable (McKay, 2000). Also, if you exaggerate praise (i.e. you are the best singer in the world), they may question your praise if they find it not to be true. The following are two parts to communicating praise and developing self esteem in your child (McKay, 2000, p. 293-294):
Communicate Your Thoughts on the Behavior. Communicate your feeling about the child’s behavior. This can include feeling excited, joyful, encouraged, respected, proud, delight, and appreciation for your child.
Affirm your Child’s Feelings. Make sure to ask how your child is feeling about her behavior. Since we are talking about praising your child, she may be excited and happy about her actions. It is important you acknowledge your child’s perception of the event rather than just your perception. How your child saw the event you are talking about is significant to her behaviors and feelings. If you are correcting your child, this will allow your child to not feel defensive about the correction.
An example: “Audrey you vacuumed the living room without me having to ask you. I am very grateful for your help and proud of you for thinking to do this on your own. What are your feelings about completing this chore? (Maybe Audrey states she did not like doing it, but felt good after.) I am sure you did not want to vacuum the living room. It is not fun to do chores, but as you discovered if feels good after you complete them. Thank you again for your help.”
Correct Your Child. Correcting your child in a way that affirms them, but also lets them know what is expected can be a difficult task. It is important to remember you are a mirror as discussed earlier. How you react and respond to your child will be a model in which your child uses to respond to future behaviors. Therefore, it is important for you as a parent to cope with your feelings. You do not want to allow your feelings to interfere with you correcting your child in a way that promotes self-esteem.
Here are a few tips (McKay, 2000, pp. 296-297):
Distinguish the Behavior. Identify the specific behavior you are wanting to discuss without judgment. This allows your child to learn the difference between herself and the behavior. As a parent you will always love your child because she is your child, but you do not always agree with or condone her behavior. Also, identifying and distinguishing the specific behavior allows you to give accurate feedback to your child. It also allows your child to understand good and bad behavior impacts others.
“Eve your teacher called me today and let me know you failed your math test.”
Need for Behavior Change. Make sure to get to the point when describing the reason for behavior change. “If you do not pass the test, you may fail math and not be able to move on to the next grade.”
Affirm your Child’s Feelings. Try to ask your child’s feelings or make your statement about her feelings a question if you are unsure of how she is feeling. “When you do not make eye contact, it makes me think you are frustrated. Is this right?” Or “I know it was a hard test and it sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed.”
Communicate What is Expected. The statement you make should be clear and concise.
“Eve you will need to raise your grade in math, so I have signed you up for tutoring after school.” Or “You will need to bring your math homework home each night for me to help you with it in order to raise your grade.”
As stated above, make sure your statements are clear, concise, and to the point. Also, be empathetic to how your child is feeling, but make sure you are stating what needs to change. This method of communicating to your child will allow you to discuss changes in behavior without lowering your child’s self-esteem.
The following are a few tips to be mindful of when trying to promote confidence in your child (McKay, 2000, p. 308):
Teach Your Child Skills for Independence. Encourage your child to try new tasks on her own to build problem solving skills. If she struggles with the task, show her how to do it and encourage your child to do it on her own. Start with small behaviors such as getting dressed and tying shoes for younger children and putting away the dishes and doing homework for older children.
Remind Them of Successes. Keep track of times where she has been successful at being independent, completing tasks, and problem solving. Remind her of these times when she could do things on her own. This will allow your child to have confidence to try new tasks because she have been successful in the past. For example: “Rebecca, remember when you completed the multiplication homework by yourself? You did an awesome job. I think you can do the division homework.”
Give Your Child Responsibilities in the Family. Give your child chores to complete or other household tasks as their own responsibilities. Your children may complain at first, but this allows them to feel part of the family and have pride in their home. You could give your 7 year old the responsibility to vacuum the living room twice a week as well as ask her to help you rake the leaves on Saturday. For a younger child, you could have her help you put away laundry or pick up after herself. While the tasks may take longer at first to teach your child how to appropriately complete them, it will pay off in the end with your child helping out and feel accomplished.
References and Recommended Readings
McKay, J. (2000). Building self-esteem in children. In M. Mickay & P Fanning (Eds.), Self-Esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving & managing your self-esteem. (3rd. Ed.) (pp.279-313). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.