Monday, August 4, 2014

Self Esteem: A Family Matter

How do you raise a child with high self-esteem and confidence when they tackle life's inevitable challenges? It begins with you, or maybe with your parents. Turns out, everybody has a cup for self esteem, and it can be empty, low, mid-range or high.

Family therapist Virginia Satir was an expert in training other therapists in the communications theory model of family therapy, and wrote the book Peoplemaking. Satir observed in her long career counseling families that people are likely to partner with someone who has a similar level of self-esteem. We are also most likely to raise our children to have the same level of self esteem that we have.

Be aware that your children are listening to your self-talk. If you make negative self-statements, your children are likely to absorb this role modeling. Someone with good self esteem makes mistakes and can take responsibility, learn from it and let it go. They don't verbally beat themselves up, saying "I'm so stupid" or "I'm fat", etc. You may want to pause and consider how you respond when you make a mistake or don't get something you wanted.

You may want to address your own self-esteem level if it is low. You can decide to have a family legacy of insecurity or low self-esteem stop with you, and not pass it on. You may want to imagine what you would be doing, how you would be behaving if your self-esteem were higher and challenge yourself to grow some.

Besides working on your own self-esteem, there are other ways you can help your children master higher self-esteem. Here are a few tips to get started:

1. Teach your child life skills that are age appropriate. Confidence is built by feeling capable of doing as much for yourself as you can. Even toddlers can be encouraged to pick up after playing with toys. Grade school children need some chores at home. I like middle school students to learn practical skills like cooking and laundry. Make sure both girls and boys get experience with inside and outside chores.

2. Encourage your child's developing of their hobbies and interests. Let them choose, rather than making it about your needs and unfulfilled leftover dreams. A well-developed set of interests outside of academics helps protect a child's self-esteem even when they have a difficult class or teacher that they are dealing with.

3. Help your child find a way that they like to get outside and get regular exercise. This will help their mood and give them a regular outlet to cope in a healthy way with the stress kids and teens feel, and build lasting strategies that will serve them well in college and as an adult.

4. Encourage your child's friendships. Make your home a place where friends can come over at all ages. Get to know their friends. Serve snacks. Developing friendships and social skills helps protect self-esteem.

5. Help your child develop boundaries and learn to voice their opinions appropriately. Family meetings once a week at dinner are a great place to practice.

6. Support your child develop their faith and spirituality. This aspect of self is grounding and will help when they are dealing with difficulty and disappointment.

7. Help your child learn to be grateful, and express appreciation to others.

8. Encourage your child to give back to others and contribute. Children and teens who learn to transcend selfishness end up having not only better college application essays, but more successful  relationships and self-esteem. You can volunteer together with your children at a food bank, or some other cause you care about.

9. Role model healthy relationships, and working through conflicts fairly.

People with higher self-esteem still encounter difficulty and disappointment, but they attribute the set-backs differently and don't see it as a never-ending pattern of defeat. You are your child's first and most important teacher when it comes to self-esteem. This is just one more way, if we choose to accept the challenge, that being a parent can be a growing experience for the parent as well as the child.

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