Nine year old daughter Yashica, is a very clever girl but all her teachers say that she will not participate in class even though she knows the answer. Yashica feels she is not clever enough though she is in the top five in her class. Is there something wrong with her? What can you do to help her?

What is self-esteem?

We constantly talk about low self-esteem. What really is self-esteem? Each one of us carries a unique picture of ourselves. This is largely shaped in childhood by messages communicated to us by our parents and then by peers, family and teachers. Children with a good self-image develop healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem does not mean being arrogant or boastful. It means understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Self esteem means being happy with what you are. A child who does not feel good about herself will not feel happy at all. During their development children always compare themselves to others and they often see themselves as wanting. It is up to us parents to help them have realistic expectations of themselves. Therefore we can’t just leave it to chance. We need to work on developing positive self-esteem.

Ways to decrease self-esteem

Our parenting styles can unwittingly help in reducing a child’s self-esteem.

1. Labelling: Good boy, naught girl, awful child are all judgments made by parents. Even a positive label like clever boy can cause problems with a child’s self worth. He is then constantly under pressure to be clever and when he can't be brilliant he feels he is no good. On the other hand, he realises that eh can't be clever all the time so he just gives up. So be careful of getting into this labelling business. Instead of saying “clever boy” say, “you did this science assignment very well. I can see you have done a lot of research. Well done, Armaan.” “Clumsy girl” can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where your child will not even attempt to try and be more careful. If changed to “You need to carry the glass to the kitchen holding it with both hands” the chances are she will be more careful.
2. Over involvement: Some parents spend way too much time with their children. Constantly after them; teaching them, coaching them criticising them. You have seen that over involved mother on the football field screaming her head off. No she is not cheering her son. She is jeering him for having not kept the ball with him; she is criticising him for a penalty. All this in front of his teammates.
3. Substitution of presence with presents: Some parents who do not spend enough time with their kids feel that giving the child a fabulous gift or taking her on exotic holidays will be enough to make up for their absence in her piano recital or her basket ball match. The child may be quite happy with the material things but she is not stupid to know where that came from. She still feels that her playing the piano is not worthy in her parents’ eyes and therefore she is not worthy in her parents’ eyes. This contributes to reducing self-esteem.
4. Sacrifice: Many parents constantly let their children know how much they have sacrificed for their child. Given up a highflying career; not pursued his dreams; working like a dog. I think we need to really look at this self-sacrificing seriously. As parents we do things for our children because it gives US happiness to see our children doing well. We may be indirectly doing what we do for them but we really do it for ourselves. SO getting into martyr mode does not do anything for the child’s self worth. In fact it makes him feel he is a burden on his parents and is the cause of all their misery.

Ways to enhance self-esteem

1. Concentrate on the positives in your child: We tend to focus more on our children’s shortcomings than their strengths. We are under this misconception that criticising our children will make them do better in life. Nowhere in child development does this principle appear. Even in times of failure one can point out something positive to our children. After losing a cricket match your child comes home. A “Bad luck you guys lost. You fielded that shot in the first over very well. Even your coach said so. Maybe you need to talk to your coach about the batting order.” would help more than “Bad luck you lost. You need to really pull up your socks”
2. Pay attention to your child’s feelings: When you actively listen to what your child is saying you automatically give him the message that “you are important to me.”
3. Praise effort and not results: A major mantra of parenting. If your child practices his math’s homework everyday but still does poorly in his exam enhance his dwindling self-confidence by praising the effort that went into his exam. Of course, don’t give unnecessary compliments either. Your child will either not believe you or will be quite happy with his mediocre performance and won’t try harder next time. Again attack the deed and not the doer.
4. Keep your expectations realistic: Realistic expectations lead to repeated successes, which lead to better sense of self worth. Unreasonably high expectations make your child either give up constantly strive to excel, as he believes he has to be perfect to be loved.
5. Enhance talents in your child: If you recognize a talent in your child find ways of enhancing it but beware that it is not done to make you feel good. Be sure your child knows that you value her for what she is and not because she is the school’s champion athlete.
6. Play with your child: Playtime gives your child a message “You are worth my time. You are a valuable person.” Let your child initiate the play. No matter if you have to see 101 Dalmatians for the twentieth time or make the same tower for the eighth time, let the child start the play. An activity initiated by the child holds his attention much longer than one suggested by an adult.
7. Improve your own self-confidence: If your sense of self worth is low the possibility of passing that to your child is very high. When your child sees you unhappy and she may translate that into her father being unhappy with her. She may feel that “If my father is not satisfied it means I am not good enough.” Try to imbibe all the good things your parents did to enhance your self-image. Discard all the negative things they did to weaken it. If you cannot do it yourself seek professional help.