Richard Hogan shares his personal experiences on how to build your child’s self-worth and gives tips on how to tackle this lifelong task.
Last week I arrived home to an extremely jubilant six-year-old girl. She was more excited than my pocket of empty calories normally provokes.
I knew there was something afoot. ‘Dad, I’m running for the student council’.
At first I was a little shocked that I am old enough to have a daughter interested in such pursuits.
Then I began to congratulate myself for rearing a child concerned with stewardship and the plight of the ordinary student. However, my wife’s expression revealed she was further along in the thinking process than I was.
Her eyes bounced back, ‘well, you’re the psychotherapist — how do we manage this potential disappointment?’
All the next morning, reaching perhaps the nadir of my parenting life, I waited for my phone to ping to reveal the outcome of the local Educate Together student council election.
Of course, my training as a systemic family psychotherapist does not allow me to experience moments like these without trawling through the minutia of what this event was bringing up for me and why I was having such a strong reaction to it.
And even though the meaning of it all has yet to fully reveal itself, I knew I was concerned for the possible dent to my daughter’s self-esteem.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is one of those rare intangible and unquantifiable aspects of the human condition.
It is nearly easier not to see than to see. And, as parents, it can often leave us mystified as how to promote and nurture it within our children. As a schoolteacher working with adolescents over the last 15 years, talking about self-esteem is one of the most recurring conversations I have with parents about their child.
Yet I have often found myself struggling for the correct language to express what exactly it is I am trying to say. Low self-esteem or poor view of self can have a devastating impact on a child that can last a lifetime.
And lead them into a series of destructive relationships. Murray Bowen believed children who cannot separate their own intellectual and emotional functioning from the family develop what he called ‘low differentiation of self’.
Such children constantly seek the approval and acceptance of others and often either conform themselves to please others or attempt to force others to conform to them.
He suggested that those presenting with ‘low differentiation of self’ often seek out people who have a similar poor view of self and therefore enter into relationships in adulthood that are destructive and doomed before they begin.
So developing your child’s view of self and their place in the world which allows them to have independent thoughts from the family system is one of the most significant and challenging endeavours a parent can be engaged in.
5 tips to build your child’s self-esteem:
Developing your child’s self-esteem is a lifelong task and something that challenges all of us as parents. It certainly concerned me last week; thankfully my phone did ping: ‘got it!’
Be by your child’s side, not on it. Reward failure.
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