Parents and teachers want to know what they can do to promote a child’s self-esteem.  What advice would you give them and why?

According to Bee and Boyd (2007), self-esteem is a function of two factors.

First, children hold a vision of what they should be.  As they move out of childhood into adolescence, they increasingly compare their beliefs about who they really are against who they think they ought to be.  “When the discrepancy is large—when the child sees himself as failing to live up to his own goals or values—self-esteem is much lower” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 287).  

There are at least three obvious actions parents and teachers can take to close this gap.  First, they can work with children to have realistic expectations of their “ideal self.”  By working with children to be fully in touch with their humanity, that ideal can be lowered and the gap reduced.  Second, children all have different areas of strength and weakness.  Typically, the ideals to which children compare themselves are in areas selected by peer group and environment.  This is particularly true in adolescence as the peer group assumes greater significance.  Still, parents can help children shift their comparisons to areas of relative competence.  Finally, children often do a poor job of evaluating themselves.  Frequently, children allow their peer group to define them.  All too often, they place far too little emphasis on their own true strengths and goals.  Parents and teachers can make sure that children see all their capabilities clearly and emphasize their areas of relative excellence.  By doing these three things, the gap between ideal and perceived reality can be reduced dramatically.

Second, self-esteem is dependent on “the overall sense of support the child feels from the important people around her, particularly parents and peers (Franco & Levitt, 1998)” (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 287).  In childhood and even in adolescence, children need the love and support of the significant adults in their lives.  Children need to know that they are held to standards, but they need to know that those standards are about the child achieving their own possibility.  They need to know that they are expected to strive and work for the very best they can achieve.  In addition, they need to know that failure is a part of being human, of learning, of evolving.  Mostly, children need to know that they are loved and appreciated.

It is easy to forget, especially with adolescents, but children look to their significant adults to find strength, courage, and direction.  It is up to those adults to provide those things with love and appreciation for all the challenges of youth.

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