“A wonder child,” the audience members exclaim as they look on in awe when nine-year-old Jennifer plays her violin. Secretly they envy Jennifer’s parents, because isn’t having a musical prodigy the ultimate showcase for excellent parenting skills?
However, what they don’t know is that at school Jennifer is struggling. Struggling to make friends, to play games, to do any of the ordinary things other kids excel at. Jennifer’s parents have been so swept away with their daughter’s exceptional musical abilities that they never gave the development of her emotional and social skills a second thought. And now, Jennifer is one of the unhappiest kids in the class, struggling in vain to find her self-worth.
A child’s self-esteem is one of the single most important things you can help your child to develop. Good self-esteem helps a child to be confident, try new things, get along well with other children, do well in school and countless other things. The way a child feels about himself affects nearly every aspect of his life, and children look to adults to learn about who they are.
“As parents, we naturally love our child with all our heart, and it tears us apart if that child doesn’t love herself,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of several best-seller parenting books. “Many people assume that there’s little they can do to change this situation, when actually, parents can have a tremendous effect on how a child sees him- or herself.”
What’s in Your Head?
The first step to instilling positive thinking in your kids is to assess your own thinking. “Listen to what you say. Pay attention to the self-talk going on in your head,” advises Carol Johnson, director of planning at the Planning Council for Health and Human Services in Wisconsin, and author of Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes. “If you yourself do not have a positive attitude, you will not be able to instil one in your kids. If you feel negative about yourself, your child will ‘absorb’ your negative self-image.”
Child psychologist Dr. Dan Smith, PhD, from the Department of Counseling, Special Education and Rehabilitation at California State University, Fresno, agrees. “Although most of the work of developing a positive sense of self is done alone, it cannot happen if the atmosphere is not supportive. So, while the child’s sense of self is developing, you remain the best model and facilitator for positive development,” he says.