Student Resources
Self Esteem

Despite the fact that you can not touch it, see it or hear it, it affects how you feel and how you talk about yourself. This is your self-esteem! What Is Self-Esteem? Brian Mesinger, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, defines the term this way - "Self-esteem is the collection of beliefs or feelings that we have about ourselves. How we define ourselves hugely influences our motivations, attitudes, and behaviors."

To understand self-esteem, may be we should break it in to the constituent words. Let's take a look at the word "esteem" first. Esteem is about thinking that someone or something is important or valuing that person or thing. For example, if you admire your friend because he does brave things at the Adventure Camps, NCC or Boy Scouts, it means you hold him in high esteem. Self refers to yourself! When you put these two words together, it is easier to figure out what self-esteem is. It is about how you value yourself and how important you think you are. It is about how you see yourself and how you feel about your achievements.

Is Self-Esteem Important?

Any child needs to have self-esteem. Self-esteem is important because it helps you to hold your head high and feel proud of yourself for being what you are and how you are. It gives you the courage to try out new things. It lets you respect yourself, even when you make mistakes. And when you respect yourself, adults and other kids usually respect you, too. If you have good self esteem, you are less likely to follow the crowd if your friends are doing something dumb and you know that you're smart enough to make your own decisions.

Healthy self-esteem is a child's armour against the challenges of the world. Such kids can handle conflicts with much more ease and resist negative pressures. They smile more and enjoy life, are more realistic and positive. On the contrary, for children with low self-esteem, challenges are a major source of anxiety and frustration. They find it more difficult to handle problems and have self-critical thoughts. They may become passive, withdrawn, or depressed.

In order to equip your child with the tools that will help him develop healthy self-esteem, it is essential to understand what self-esteem is. For a child, learning to roll over after many unsuccessful attempts, and finally learning to walk are experiences that teach him an "I can" attitude. As a child tries and fails, tries again and then finally succeeds, he is developing concepts about his own capabilities, and creating thoughts about himself, based on his interactions with people. Hence, parental involvement is important in assisting a child form correct and healthy self-perceptions. A child who is happy with his achievements but does not feel loved may also experience low self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is thus a result of the right balance of affection and achievements.

Is lack of Self-Esteem Unhealthy?

A child with low self-esteem will not try out new things. He will speak negatively about himself, saying such things like, "I'll never learn how to do this," or "Nobody cares for me anyways." He has a lower tolerance for frustration, giving up easily. Children with low self-esteem view temporary setbacks as permanent conditions. A sense of pessimism pervades and this situation is definitely unhealthy.

How can parents help to develop healthy self-esteem in a child?

Parents have to be positive role models. If you are pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your child may also develop similar thoughts. Build your own self-esteem, and your child will follow suit. A child needs a safe and nurturing home environment. A child who feel unsafe or is being abused in his own home will suffer from low self-esteem. If the parents fight and argue in front of the child he is more likely to become depressed and withdrawn. You as a parent should also watch for signs of abuse by others, problems at school, bullying from peers, etc.

Be careful about what you say. Children are very sensitive to parents' words. Praise your child for a job well done, and also for effort put in. But be truthful. If your child did not make the it to school cricket team, do not say, "Work harder and you will make it next time". Instead, say, "It is alright! I'm really proud of the effort you put into it." Reward effort and completion, and not the end result. Be affectionate with your child. Your love will go a long way to bolster his self-esteem. Give him hugs. Tell him you're proud of him. Praise him/ her frequently and honestly. Kids can make out!

A parent should help the child to identify his incorrect beliefs and redirect his beliefs in a positive direction. A child who does well in school but struggles with a particular subject or language may feel that he is a bad student. This is an incorrect generalization and will set up the child for failure unless corrected. Encourage the child to see the correct situation. The child is a good student. XYZ is just a subject that he needs to spend more time on and do better.

Finding Help

If you feel that your child has low self-esteem, you can get help from a family/ child counselor who can help you uncover the underlying issues that are preventing your child from feeling good about himself/ herself. The way a child views himself and the world around him, can be adjusted through therapy. With a little help, most children can develop a healthy self-esteem.

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