Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

By Dr. Debi Gilmore LMFT

Helping Children Build a Foundation of Self-Worth

Children learn through observation, particularly by observing their parents in dealing with life challenges. Modeling is one of the most powerful parenting techniques, and the following fundamental concepts are key in helping children achieve a solid sense of self.

1. An Optimistic Outlook—Which Models A “Can Do” Attitude For The Child

When children are very young, they look to the outside world through the eyes of their parents. When they see their parents navigate challenges with dedication and an attitude of coping, they are likely to see the world as safe, exciting and challenging. Conversely, when they are shielded from the issues families face, or they view their parents as stressed out, overwhelmed, and constantly negative, they tend to approach the world apprehensively.

When children hear their parents express confidence in dealing with issues, and when their parents help the child deal with issues and solve problems, the child feels greater security and reassurance that difficulties are only temporary and ultimately manageable.

2. Acceptance, Expectations, And Autonomy: Parenting Techniques That Cultivate Self-Worth.

 Acceptance

Every human being needs to feel important to their family. When children begin to question their parents’ devotion, their emotional capability of handling outside stresses is compromised. When a child is insecure about their acceptance in the home, they are unable to internalize the needed emotional security that comes from “just knowing” their parents believe in them and love them. Insecurity in children causes them to become even more dependent on others’ acceptance, and they become hyper-focused on getting attention from others and pleasing others rather than developing a solid foundation of internally anchored self-worth.

Expectations

It is essential for parents to require their children to work hard in their quest to achieve relative success in life. This also contributes to their self-worth and confidence that matures into a healthy view of self as they relate to the world. This requires parents to model, teach, mentor, and guide in various ways, including working beside their child and assisting the child until the child understands the concepts being expected of them. This modeling is a type of scaffolding that supports the child in the learning process.

With time, the parent must take down some of the scaffolding and allow the child to experience increasing responsibility. This contributes to their self-efficacy or a “can do” attitude. With early discipline practices by enforcing natural consequences, the child develops a healthy self-regard.

Autonomy

 Recent research focusing on self-worth notes that “competent, high-self-esteem children experience parental respect for their individuality.” This means that parents must actively encourage their children to assert their differences, and not just “allow” the differences. This process fosters the child’s comfort and future skill in listening to their own internal voice and identifying who and what they want themselves to feel and need as opposed to hearing only what others prefer them to do or think.

Bottom line: Parents, must consistently give their children the message that it is ok to disagree, and that disagreeing is a healthy way to collaborate and navigate this world. That is, if the child doesn’t act out in harmful ways in the midst of their disagreement with others.

3. Learning When to Let Go—Gradually Shifting Control from Parent To Child

It is important for parents to recognize their child’s need for increasing control over themselves as well as the environment around them. However, that process is contingent on the child’s demonstration of the ability to handle this control responsibly.

It is difficult to be a “really good” parent, so it is essential to see these principles as stepping stones to follow, or a map for the journey of parenting. In reality, if you are giving your child the best you have, encouraging them with these steps in mind, you are more than good enough. If your child knows they are loved by you, and if they know you believe in them, then you have achieved the most important goal of parenting.