All parents want their children to be authentically who they are, to realize all of their potential and to rise to the challenge of being the best they can be. But how exactly do you help them feel good about themselves and create positive self-esteem? There are actually exercises you can do with your child to ensure he is accepting himself so he can live with inner peace and confidence.
Positive self-esteem is achieved through properly interpreting yourself through accurate, positive and healthy internal dialogue. For many kids, self-esteem is measured as a function of what they accomplish or accumulate externally, from the world, in the form of grades, trophies, recognition or material stuff. But this form of esteem can be elusive, fickle and completely vulnerable to the whims of the external world. When kids keep trying to meet internal needs from the outside that can only be truly met from the inside, they’ll never hit the spot. True self-esteem is internally defined; it comes from the inside out. It means that you love, believe in and accept yourself, because you accept and appreciate that you are a unique, quality and authentic person.
In children, true self-esteem, along with confidence, hope and optimism, is generated by internal dialogue that tells children they are OK, loved, appreciated and special. Positive and realistic self-talk also creates children who live up to their own expectancies (in contrast to those imposed by other people). Having high self-esteem and high self-confidence will ensure that those self-expectancies are high yet realistic, and carry your children to their highest possible level of achievement and performance.
Important: Trying to boost a child’s self-esteem with random, over-blown, false or insincere praise independent of actual achievement is not a good idea. Unconditional love is one thing; giving a child a trophy for coming in last in a race is another. Children who are led to believe they can do something, when indeed they cannot, will suffer greater disappointment later.
If you suspect your child may be sabotaging himself with disruptive self-talk, you should work together to create a new, more accurate internal dialogue. As your child begins to think differently and behave more authentically, he’ll begin to experience a new, more positive history that will predict a new future of successful life endeavors in a variety of pursuits. The exercises you’re about to do with your child are designed to help you do just that – make changes internally to ensure he’s accepting himself and therefore living with inner peace and confidence.
First, help your child recognize some of these negative self-talk traps by asking him or her to write down, or if they can’t yet write well, tell you, the “bad things that I say to myself”; for example, “I’m not good in math … I worry about getting bad grades … I won’t do well on my test.” Be careful to remain age appropriate in discussing this with your child or you will just be talking with yourself. Children hear what they understand.
Next, you can use a technique with your child called fact-finding to see if there is any validity to the negative self-talk. Ask: “Why do you think your thoughts are true or not true?” Your child might respond by saying: “I got As and Bs on my report card last time, so I do get good grades … I got a B on my test last time … My teacher says I’m a hard worker in math.” The point is to help your child identify whether these thoughts are correct or incorrect.
As you work through this exercise with your child, you may discover that a thought is true, such as “I’m a bad speller.” Look upon this opportunity as a teachable moment, asking your child: “What could you do differently now to change that?” Have your child come up with his or her own plan for improvement, such as studying a little longer or spending more time checking over assignments for spelling errors. When your child is involved in devising the solution, he has ownership in the plan and is better motivated to carry it through.
As a way to eliminate any negative self-talk and build self-confidence, teach your child how to substitute, and practice, positive responses. For example:
I’ll do the best I can, and that will be the best I can do.
I studied hard for the test, so I should do well.
I worked hard on my homework.
I know my stuff.
I’ll be OK; I can do this.
Finally, as you perform this exercise with your child, encourage him or her to express his/her new thoughts out loud. Research shows that working out solutions aloud helps in solving problems, such as mathematics or understanding words.
Another key to developing your children’s self-esteem is acknowledging their self-worth. Self-worth refers to things we have come to believe about our importance and value. If children don’t have feelings of self-worth, they’re less resilient in facing adversity, and they have trouble solving problems out in the world. Effectively helping your children develop their self-worth demands that you help them maximize all their distinctive gifts and qualities -- and let them know that they do matter in their family and in society.
The following exercise is one you can do with your children. It is designed to help your children acknowledge their gifts and their importance in your family. Have each of your children fill out the following form and display it in their rooms. That way, they can see the positive and affirming foundations of who they have become. By taking your children through this kind of exercise, it forces them to objectify themselves in such a way that they consciously acknowledge their worth and value.
My best talents and skills are:
My best school subjects are:
My best physical qualities are:
My best accomplishments are:
My best relationship skill (e.g., making friends) is:
My best problem-solving occurs when:
I look the best when I wear:
My best friends like my:
My friends think I:
My family thinks my talents are:
I excel in:
People can depend on me to:
I’ve made the following positive contributions to the family:
I’ve made a positive impression on my teachers by:
The following family members have expressed their love for me:
Other members of my community (e.g., religious group, teachers, uncles and aunts, etc.) have told me how much they appreciate me, including:
The following people have told me they respect me:
I feel worthy of love and respect because:
Modified excerpt from Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan For Creating a Phenomenal Family by Dr. Phil McGraw (Free Press, 2004).
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