The wonder and innocence of childhood is a fragile and fleeting thing. The turns and tangles of the world beyond their parent’s arms can be harsh and complex. The cultural pressure on children to abandon their innocence, grow up fast is enormous–and wrought with countless trials and tears. Self-esteem is the consequence of how we cope, what we believe, how we were raised and, most importantly, how we live.
Children who have healthy self-esteem generally lead happier, more hopeful, and more productive and more fulfilled lives than those who do not. Those with a healthy sense of who they are look to the future with greater confidence and enjoy more satisfying relationships in the present.
The challenge for parents can seem insurmountable because no one can give self-esteem to another. But parents have the opportunity, like no one else, to create an environment where love is unconditional, responsibility is shared, virtues are rewarded and mistakes are forgiven. These are the foundations of a family built for nurturing self-esteem in children.
What is self-esteem?
It’s hard to define. At its core, self-esteem is the way we view and value ourselves. It’s the inner confidence and trust that says we’re important, that others accept and even love us, that we’re capable of making a significant contribution to the world, and that we have a purpose in life. All children possess a powerful, innate need to feel connected to others in a significant way. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning and supplies the courage to take risks, persevere when we fail, and to pursue meaningful friendships and healthy intimacy with loved ones. Healthy self-esteem comes from knowing that you are loved, have value to others and a purpose in this world. Self-esteem gives a child the confidence and the strength to deal with life’s ups and downs. Kids who have healthy self esteem shine like a bright light.
The foundation of self-esteem: unconditional love
The essential ingredient of healthy self-esteem is unconditional love. All children need to know that someone loves and accepts them just as they are–the bad as well as the good, the weaknesses as well as the strengths, the failures as well as the successes. Children need to know that no matter what they do, no matter how smart they are or are not, and no matter what they look like, at least one person in this world will always stand by them, believe in them and love them unconditionally.
In early life, children who feel safe and warm in the warmth of their parents’ arms, develop the belief that they are worthy of love and attention. They learn to love themselves because their parents loved them first.
This sense of security translates into the courage and confidence they need to try new things, overcome frustration, master challenges, and develop satisfying friendships. When they accomplish these things they simply “feel good” and act happy.
All children wonder about things like “Where did I come from?” and “Why am I here?” You can boost a child’s self-esteem by explaining that God has made them to be one of a kind and has a special plan for their life. If your family attends church or synagogue, tell your child what you believe and why. Knowing that they are connected to others with the same beliefs and values will instill an appreciation of traditions and the importance being part of something eternal. Pray for, and with your children. A study reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that children from families who place a high importance on personal prayer and religion are less likely to use drugs, become sexually active or suffer from low self esteem. Go figure.
Turns out that children draw tremendous strength and comfort from their family’s faith and in knowing that God loves them and has a plan and purpose for their life. Parents who are intentional about teaching this love to their small children will have much less to worry about when they are teens.