How to Give Your Child a Healthy Self-Image

Children need lots of encouragement and genuine compliments

I
f I were to give you nine compliments and one harsh criticism, which of the ten comments would you probably remember me for—for the rest of your life if we were close friends? And when we give our children more criticisms than compliments and words of encouragement and praise, which are they going to remember the longest? Undoubtedly the criticisms.

It's primarily what we, the parents, program into our child's memory bank that shapes his or her self-concept which is how he perceives himself. This also includes his/her self-image and self-esteem—how the child sees and feels about him/herself. A healthy self-concept and self-image is so vital for the development of a healthy personality, we simply cannot overemphasize its importance. It is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.

In her book Your Child’s Self-Esteem, Dorothy Corkille Briggs, educator and child counselor, says: "High self-esteem is not a noisy conceit. It is a quiet sense of self-respect, a feeling of self worth.

"Your child’s judgment of himself influences the kinds of friends he chooses, how he gets along with others, the kind of person he marries, and how productive he will be. It effects his creativity, integrity, stability, and even whether he will be a leader or a follower. His feelings of self-worth form the core of his personality and determine the use he makes of his aptitudes and abilities. His attitude toward himself has a direct bearing on how he lives all parts of his life. In fact, self-esteem is the mainspring that slants every child for success or failure as a human being."1

Self-esteem is the mainspring
that slants every child for success
or failure as a human being.

In other words, if children like and believe in themselves, they will naturally accept that others like them and believe in them too. If they don’t like and believe in themselves, they will be convinced that others don’t like them or believe in them either.

Take Billy, for example, an unwanted child who was starved for love and affection. No matter what others did for him, he interpreted their actions on the basis of his low self-esteem. If people gave him compliments, he felt they were insincere. If they expressed kindness he was suspicious. Consequently, Billy withdrew from any close contact with people and was headed for greater problems in later life.

Another child in the same situation might act very aggressively. This is because children who feel rejected may despise their parents as much as themselves. Unable to express their anger towards their parents for fear of further rejection, they bully other children instead. In later life, they may beat their spouse or take their hostility out on their children.

Dorothy Briggs also says that, "Dropouts, delinquents, and dope users privately believe they are hopelessly inadequate and worthless."2 But for the child with a healthy self-image it is highly unlikely that he or she will ever become a problem child—or a problem adult.

If positive behavior, wholesome relationships, achievement, and happiness have their roots in a healthy self-image, how can we ensure that our children develop this important part of their personality?

First. Parents need to accept responsibility for their children’s self-esteem. As one person stated, "Your child’s self is a gift from God, but his or her self-image is in your hands."

Second. Realize that self-esteem is a learned concept. It is learned from the important people in the child’s early life, such as teachers, peers and family—but mostly from the parents.

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