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Categories > Mental and Emotional Health > Developing a healthy attitude

Healthy habits that build a confident child
How self-esteem forms
Parents’ call to action

Self-esteem and girls
Self-esteem and girls

Growing up female in today’s society poses special challenges. The Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia University in New York recommends these steps for girls and their mentors to help build the confidence required to meet them:

• Girl talk. By confiding and sharing emotions with their friends, young women learn that many others have the same feelings.

• Anxiety releases. Girls are encouraged to keep a diary of their feelings to prevent them from piling up inside.

• Adult involvement. A trusted adult’s experience and wisdom can help girls understand and cope with even the most intimidating situations.

• Health issues. Once puberty arrives, the pace of physical and emotional change can be overwhelming. Young women handle puberty better when they learn about their bodies from a healthcare provider, counselor or their moms.

All parents try to give their children the coping skills necessary to lead happy, successful lives. Experts say one of the best ways to prepare a child to thrive in tomorrow’s world is with the gift of self-esteem.

A child with good self-esteem feels confident and secure enough to take on new challenges. What’s more, a well-centered child values himself or herself as a person whose feelings, opinions and beliefs matter.

These kids have the ability to turn away from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol and opt instead for nurturing themselves and others. Positive self-esteem supports good grades, appreciation of family and friends and a happier outlook on life.

But for the child with poor self-esteem, the world is unkind and unfair. These children become skeptical, critical and afraid. Their negative feelings and history of failure keep them from branching out. They tend to take a dim view of school, relationships and their own future. They have poor problem-solving skills and often develop eating disorders, anxiety and self-abusive behavior involving drugs and alcohol.

How self-esteem forms

Children today are bombarded with impressions of themselves—both good and bad—from home, classmates, TV and many other sources. At a very young age, these impressions can cause kids to fashion a self-portrait in their minds of who they are and how they feel about themselves.

Much of this snapshot comes from Mom and Dad and the day-to-day episodes that mold impressionable young minds. The thoughtful parent who praises a child’s efforts will boost that child’s self-vision; the dismissive parent who calls a child’s innocent question “stupid” is setting the stage for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, youngsters encounter relentless advertising campaigns that tell kids they’re “cool” only if they have the latest video games, clothes or cosmetics. And unless parents stay involved, most of their kids’ self-esteem will be molded either by Madison Avenue or Hollywood Boulevard instead of at the dinner table or during family outings.

Parents’ call to action

Child psychologists say self-esteem is a combination of feeling competent and feeling loved. Without both, children generally do not develop high self-esteem.

The good news? Poor self-esteem in children is reversible. Moving to a new town, not making the team or struggling in math can rattle confidence but need not tear it down. Good parenting skills can keep life’s bumps and bruises from overwhelming a child. Some ways to build a child’s self-esteem include:

• Being positive. Right now, you have the greatest influence on your child’s self-esteem. By being confident, caring, thoughtful and optimistic, you give your child a wonderful role model that he or she will imitate and grow by.

• Not throwing stones. Avoid criticizing people, places and things in front of your child. Harsh parental judgments carry tremendous weight with children and will turn them into pint-sized cynics in no time. And never label your child with negative terms such as “dummy” or “loser,” even in jest.

• Seeing the good first. If your son’s report card has good and not-so-good grades, congratulate him first on what he did right, and then discuss the rest. And if your daughter’s violin practice is making the dog howl, praise her hard work and encourage her to keep improving.

• Admitting your mistakes. Even the best parent runs out of patience. If you lose your temper or are mistaken about something, apologize to your child. This prevents him or her from believing your wrath was appropriate, and it teaches your child how to make amends when a situation jumps the tracks.