The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the pillars of children’s lives in Fiji and all around the world. Faced with quarantine, school closures, and social distancing, many children are deprived of the everyday experiences that normally build their self-esteem – their sense of worth as a person. Self-esteem is a critical ingredient of children’s mental health. Children with higher self-esteem tend to have happier lives, better relationships, and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
All parents would agree that we want our children to have a healthy and unconditional love for themselves. To have confidence in their own worth. To have self-respect, so as their love for themselves grows, they will want to share it with the world.
So What Does Self-Esteem Actually Mean?
Self-esteem may be something that we can’t put our hands on, but it is certainly something we can see, as well as feel. While we don’t feel it with our hand, we do feel it inside each and every one of us. We all have one, whether we can readily identify it or not, or whether or not we can put our finger on a definition of what it is.
Having said that, it is actually much easier to explain what self-esteem is than it may seem. Self-esteem involves each person and how they feel about themselves. It is not about big egos or being vain, but rather a sense of how you feel about who you are, and what you are capable of.
While many of us feel we have an idea of what self-esteem is, it can still be difficult to pinpoint just how to go about helping a child to build a healthy one. We can help them discover what they like most about who they are and help see the very best in themselves especially when they are amidst online learning.
How Do We Build This Self-Esteem In Our Children?
Below are few ways through which parents can build their child’s self-esteem:
- Celebrate effort
Praising children for their accomplishments is great, but it’s also important to let them know you are proud of their efforts regardless of the outcome. It takes hard work to develop new skills, and results aren’t always immediate. Let them know you value the work they are doing, whether they are toddlers building with blocks or teenagers teaching themselves to play the guitar. As parents, we should always be supportive of what our children are doing, for example, try saying “I like how you wrote that story for your English class or how wonderful their painting looked”.
- It’s natural if you want to protect your child from failure
Trial and error are how children learn and falling short on a goal like making mistakes while solving a math problem helps them find out that it’s not fatal. It can also motivate children to greater effort, which will serve them well as adults. Appreciate mistakes, both yours and theirs, when we do this, we show our children that it is okay to make mistakes and that we are only humans in doing so, for example, “You had a little spill? That’s ok. What do you think is the best way to clean it up?”.
- Set goals
Articulating goals, large and small, and achieving them makes children feel strong. Help your child turn desires and dreams into actionable goals by encouraging them to make a list of things they would like to accomplish. Then, practice breaking down longer-term goals into realistic benchmarks. You will be validating their interests and helping them learn the skills they will need to attain their goals throughout life.
- Embrace imperfection
As grown-ups, we know perfection is unrealistic, and it’s important for children to get that message as early as possible. Help them see that whether it’s on TV, in a magazine, or on a friend’s social media feed, the idea that others are always happy, successful, and perfectly dressed is a fantasy. Instead, remind them that being less than perfect is human and that’s totally okay.
- Expect them to pitch in
They might complain, but children feel more connected and valued when they are counted on to do age-appropriate jobs, from picking up toys to doing dishes to picking up younger siblings from a play date. Homework and after-school activities are great, but being needed by your family is invaluable. An example of a simple task would be “Do you want to help with making breakfast today before you start your class?“.
- Help your child find their passion
Exploring their own interests can help children develop a sense of identity, which is essential to building confidence. Of course, seeing their talents grow will also give a huge boost to their self-esteem. Respect their choices by showing interest in what they are doing, what social media platforms they use, what is their favourite movie or cartoon, for example, “Who do you like watching on Tik Tok (since it’s trending a lot these days)? What do you like about them?”.
- Model confidence yourself
Even if you are not quite feeling it! Seeing you tackle new tasks with optimism and lots of preparation sets a good example for children. That doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be perfect. Do acknowledge your anxiety, but don’t focus on it – focus on the positive things you are doing to get things done. Sharing how we cope sometimes acts as a salve on an aching wound, as it makes our children see that as adults we also are not in control of our emotions whenever things get difficult, for example, try saying “When I feel sad, sometimes listening to music helps me feel better. What makes you feel better when you are feeling that way?”.
- Don’t get upset about mistakes
Help your child see that everyone makes mistakes and the important thing is to learn from them, not dwell on them. Confident people don’t let fear of failure get in their way – not because they are sure they won’t ever fail, but because they know how to take setbacks and get on with them. Try comforting your child when they get angry at something or someone by saying “I know you lost your temper when you couldn’t get that math sum right. Next time, try taking a deep breath, and count to 10 before you say or do anything. Then you will be more in control of your feelings”.
- Show your love
Let your child know you love them no matter what. Win or lose the big game, good grades or bad. Even when you are mad at them. Making sure your child knows that you think they are great – and not just when they do great things – will boost their self worth even when they are not feeling good about themselves. Accept all emotions by asking about their feelings, since online learning has been introduced in everyone’s life, try sparking a conversation with your child to enquire on how they feel about the online classes that they are having or if they are facing any difficulties, for example, “How did you feel when you saw all your classmates today in Google Meet?”.
The foundation of every child’s self-esteem is laid early in life. Parents can help build this foundation by making children feel loved and nurturing their interest and joy in learning. Given the worries and fears that surround a global pandemic, a solid foundation can help children build toward a better future.
“Self-Esteem is the mainspring that slates every child for success or failure as a human being.” – Dorothy Briggs