Growing the “I Can Do it!” Attitude in Kids
By Alicia Stevens
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, self-esteem — which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as a confidence and satisfaction in oneself — is shaped not only by a child’s own perceptions and expectations, but also by those of significant people in his or her life.
In one study by Dr. Jennifer Crocker, Ph.D., 77 percent of the 600 college students surveyed reported that family support impacts their self-esteem. Confidence has many benefits, including ability to form secure and honest relationships; being less likely to be over-critical of self and others; and being resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks.
With this in mind, here are some parenting strategies to help our children develop confidence.
Dr. Alexandria Kerwin, Ph.D, LPSC, clinical coordinator of the C.O.P.E Clinic at the University of Mississippi, suggests encouraging children to get involved in activities. They’ll not only gain a sense of belonging, but will learn skills that boost self-esteem and learn that failure does not define them.
“Praising positive behaviors, and offering meaningful praise in doing so, encourages children to look within themselves for validation,” Dr. Kerwin said. It must, however, encourage the child to look within.
For example, the statement “that’s such a pretty picture” is well intended, but it focuses on the outcome. Instead, the statement “I love how you used so many colors for your picture even when the blue ran” helps children look within for value by focusing on diligence and creativity in completing the task, which builds self-worth.
Dr. Mandy Perryman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Leadership and Counselor Education at the University of Mississippi, gives more advice.
“As adults, we should allow imaginations to be brought out by our children by giving them the space to make up rules, and engage with them in pretend play,” she said. By allowing this, we encourage children to explore their own creative energy and show their ideas are welcomed.
Dr. Perryman also advises we do not assume our children know how we feel about them, nor assume we know how they feel about themselves. We should be deliberate in telling them how we feel, which can be done over regular family dinners or during time not interrupted by use of electronics. We should be specific about what we love, focusing on personality traits such as the way the child laughs, or how fun it is to spend time with him/her. She advises avoiding general statements such as “you’re such a pretty girl” or “you’re such a tough guy.”
Children can also build self-value through having a voice in the home.
“Ask your child’s input and opinions on age-appropriate matters,” she explained, suggesting parents allow kids to make their own choices whenever possible. This teaches them to speak up for themselves — and possibly also for others — and teaches that their opinions have value.
If you believe your child has low self-esteem — which can lead to anxiety, behavior problems or depression — then help is available, and play therapy may be an option. A certified play therapist provides an unstructured child-led therapeutic approach, giving the child an opportunity to use toys as words — and play as language — when the child doesn’t have the vocabulary to communicate feelings.
Working with parents, therapists can often help children work through the things causing them difficulty, but remember, parents, building a healthy sense of confidence is always a team effort.
Alicia Stevens, a resident of Pearl River County, is a freelance writer, wife and mother of two who enjoys traveling with her family and friends.