Psychology Degree Guide: Developing Self-Esteem
Studies have increasingly found that high self-esteem is a major factor in how successful a child will be in the future. Children with high self-esteem perform better on tests, play better in sports and make friends more easily than those with low self-esteem. There are a number of ways to help your child build self-confidence, and thus give them the key to success for the rest of their life.
What it is
Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, and how you think other people will see you. What most people don’t realize is that you can’t just decide to have high self-esteem. It’s an unconscious process, with three major contributing factors:
- Internal Locus of Control: This is your sense of how much control you have over your own life. Somebody with a strong internal locus of control sees their future as something they can plan and decide, while someone with a weak one sees life as a series of accidents that they cannot control. People with high self-esteem tend to have a strong locus of control, which motivates them to work toward the future they want.
- Sense of Belonging: This is how accepted you feel by the people around you, be it your family, your friends, your classmates, your coworkers, or even yourself. Somebody with a sense of belonging will have an easier time interacting, expressing themselves and fully engaging with her life, which leads to higher self-esteem. People who feel out of place or unaccepted will have a lot more trouble developing self-esteem.
- Sense of Competence: This is how talented an individual thinks he is. Somebody who thinks they are good at doing things will not be afraid to try new things, or experiment with new ways to do old things, which leads them to success. On the other hand, people who don’t think they’re good at doing anything are less likely to even try, which means that they will have far lower success rates. A successful individual will have high self-esteem, while an unsuccessful individual will feel bad about himself.
Signs of Unhealthy Self-Esteem
It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between high and low self-esteem, because the behaviors are very different. Somebody with high self-esteem will be confident, independent and optimistic. She will always try her best, but recognize that she cannot do everything perfectly. She doesn’t take failure and frustration personally, isn’t afraid to express her emotions, trusts others and takes good care of herself.
Somebody with low self-esteem, on the other hand, doesn’t have any of those qualities. Here are a few warning signs that you child might have low self-esteem:
- He has a negative/pessimistic view of the world.
- He blames others for his own shortcomings or failures.
- He doesn’t trust others, even those who are kind and affectionate toward him.
- He depends on others to make decisions for him.
- He’s a perfectionist, and holds himself to an unreasonable standard.
- He expresses emotional indifference about the things happening around him.
How to Help
There are a number of ways to build self-esteem in your child, no matter how old he is, and it’s never to late to start. Here are a few easy habits to adopt that will help promote good self-esteem:
- Speak to them respectfully. If they ask a question you don’t want to answer, don’t tell them to “shut up” or put them down. Explain to them why you don’t want to or can’t answer it, and why they shouldn’t have asked. Talk to them like they are adults.
- Tell your child when they do something right. Praise is one of the fastest ways to build self-esteem. If your child gets a good grade on a test or scores the winning goal in his soccer game, tell him how proud you are. Even if he only did something little, like remembered to put his dishes in the dishwasher instead of on the counter, make sure he knows that his contribution is appreciated.
- Use mistakes as an opportunity to teach. If you child messes up, don’t ridicule or yell at him. Instead, explain to him what he did wrong, and help him think of ways to do better in the future.
- Let him solve his own problems. If you do everything for your child, he’ll never learn how to function on his own. Don’t step in right away if you see your child struggling. Give him the opportunity to find his own solutions, and only offer your help when he really needs it.
- Be empathetic. Remember what it was like when you were a child, and how hard it was to figure out what people wanted from you, and how small you felt. Keep this in mind when dealing with your child, so you can see things from his perspective.
- Tell him you love him. Children need to be reassured of your affection, even when you are angry with them. Never allow your child to believe he is unloved.
* General Information
- The Story on Self-Esteem
A guide to self-esteem for kids, from KidsHealth.org.
- A Positive Image: Self-Esteem
A guide to self-esteem for teenagers, from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
An exploration of self-esteem and how to recognize it from UC Davis.
A guide to self-esteem and how to promote it, from the University of Texas at Austin Mental Health Center.
* Improvement Guides
- Self-Esteem Lesson Plan
A lesson plan for teachers who want to teach their students about self-esteem and help them develop it.
- Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem
A guide to helping your children gain self-esteem from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
- Understanding Children: Self-Esteem
A pamphlet from Iowa State University detailing how to ensure a child’s self-esteem throughout all the stages of his or her development.
- Self-Esteem in Children
A guide to understanding and promoting self-esteem in children, from North Carolina State University.
- Ways to Build Self-Esteem
A guide to building self-esteem for girls, from GirlsHealth.gov.
- Identity: A Path to Self-Esteem
A lesson plan to help teachers promote high self-esteem in their students.
* Academic Articles
- A Three-Factor Operational Definition of Self-Esteem
A technical definition of self-esteem, from California State University.
- Self-Esteem Development from Young Adulthood to Old Age: A Longitudinal Study
An academic study on the evolution of self-esteem throughout the average lifetime.
- Why Self-Compassion Trumps Self-Esteem
An article from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good magazine.
- Study Links Empathy, Self-Esteem and Autonomy with Increased Sexual Enjoyment
An academic study from Johns Hopkins University.
- A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit
Full-text version of the book by Edith Grotberg, Ph.D.