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Nurturing Children's Self-Esteem Introduction

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Children playing in water fountainimage by Martin Pettitt (lic)The middle childhood years (roughly ages 8-11) are very exciting, filled with many changes and some challenges as well. Children are developing their own style, their own social life, and their own schedule. They are starting to assert their own beliefs and to express their feelings. During this time parents will find many opportunities to influence children's developing character, and in so doing, lay down a strong foundation that will support children throughout the rest of their lives. Though they are growing more independent each day, children continue to rely upon their parents for sustenance, coaching and guidance, limit setting, comfort and approval. Children won't always appreciate parent's efforts, but they remain vital nevertheless.

This center describes practical ways parents can provide children with the love and nurturance their continued healthy development requires. We start with a discussion of self-esteem; what it is and why it is important. Following from the importance of healthy self-esteem, we go on to discuss specific steps parents can take to foster children's positive self-esteem and self-image.

Self-Esteem: What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is, at the root, a measure of children's judgment of their own worth. The concept of self-worth is inherently social in nature, as the worth of a person emerges in large part from a person's comparison of themselves and their abilities against the perceived abilities and value of others. Children's self-esteem is thus heavily influence by other people's opinions (spoken and unspoken) of children's relative value, which is, in turn, influenced by children's various accomplishments and failures and how these are received.

Self-esteem is primarily built through positive experience. It grows as children experience loving positive communication, and as they take on and master difficult but accomplishable developmentally-appropriate challenges. Such experiences give rise to a genuine sense of accomplishment, pride and belonging. We spend a lot of time in this document describing ways that parents can communicate with their children in loving ways that will enhance children's self-esteem. We also describe various activities parents may engage in with their children (such as community service projects), or which children may engage in by themselves or in groups (such as camp experiences) which help enhance children's sense of mastery, belonging and accomplishment.

With time and guidance, a few pushes, a little cheer-leading and much expression of loving support by parents, children will hopefully come to accurately see themselves as capable problem solvers worthy of respect from others and of self-respect. This posture of self-respect and self-esteem is an optimal foundation for emotional and occupational success in adult life.