Being a parent is like being a potter, you can not just expect the clay to form itself into a piece of art. You have to throw, jigger, jolley and fire up the pot in a kiln before it can come out strong and beautiful. Before, I talked about giving my daughter a "voice" and how important it is for the child to be recognized. Another thing that I want to give my child is self-esteem. It seems that it is not so important, as let's say a good education, food and shelter, but for me it is every bit important that she learns at an early age that she has worth.
I am currently re-reading one of my favorite parenting books, "What to Expect the Toddler Years" and found a piece about toddler self-esteem. It says that kids who have high self-esteem are less likely to give in to peer pressure, drugs and other self-destructive behaviors. They are also able to handle themselves well in tough situations and build meaningful relationships with others. Here are some tips I've picked up to help build toddler self-esteem.
Love and Attention
Hearing the words "I love you" is one of the most important things for a child. People generally feel good about themselves if they know that they are loved. Aside from showing and telling your child that you love him/her, paying attention to what he/she does is also important, this tells your kid that he is important. The next time your child runs to you to show you a drawing, a tower of block or even a frog pay attention to what he is showing and saying. It's not enough to just say "wow!" and then look away, pay genuine attention. Sure, you'll have to stop what you are doing, sure you have a deadline, sure the mommy blog ain't gonna write itself, but for your kid he/she is showing something important to the most important person in his/her life. Besides a few minutes away from whatever it is making you busy won't kill you.
Being a WAHM, I'm with my kid all the time, always within view or earshot just in case she needs help or gets into trouble. Although, it is a good set up in keeping my girl safe I realized that my constant hovering is not good for her because it made her too dependent on me. Always being there to give assistance before it is asked for can hamper self-motivation. The child is no longer motivated to do anything such packing away toys, finishing a drawing or building blocks because he/she knows that mommy is always there to do it for him/her. Along with self-motivation, the feeling of satisfaction and confidence that goes with achieving something also flies out the window. Let your child do things on his/her own, make a mess and make mistakes because its the way they learn. It can be quite a challenge for a new mom with an only child, but if I want my daughter to learn that she can do things and achieve something I have to give her space too.
If you grew up being compared to a sibling or to other people, you know how bad that feels. Imagine what that feeling would do to a toddler. Saying things like, "Why can't you behave like your classmates?" or "Look, that is finished his vegetables, why can't you" hurts your toddlers pride and it's not fair because each person is different and there is no point in doing it. Often times comparing your kid to other people's kids is a mommy-envy issue and not really your kid's problem. So, grow up mom!
Put Your Expectations in Check
Every parent thinks that his child is gifted, the smartest kid on the block. Often this leads to unbalanced expectations and frustration when the child is not able to speak, recognize letters and numbers, write or even go to the potty. Your frustration is very obvious to your child and it makes him/her feel like a failure and that does not make him achieve things any faster.Remember that your kid is a toddler and can not be expected to do things at your pace. On the other hand being too forgiving in your expectations can also prevent your kid from trying hard and giving his best. The trick is to find the balance and recognize what skills does a kid at his age often posses and what skills does he currently have. Keeping this things in mind, provide challenges that are realistically attainable, be consistent about rules and limits, this will help boost self-esteem and help your child achieve and sometimes even exceed his goals.
This is often easier said than done, especially when you get angry but saying the wrong thing can often do permanent damage to your toddler's confidence. When a child hits a playmate or throws a toy, do not say "You're a bad girl" or God forbid "Your a pain in the ass!" this does NOT help at all. Say something that addresses the situation like "It is not nice to hit people" or "I'm surprised you threw your toy, it's not like you to do that". In building toddler self-esteem it is important for the child to know that the parent's love will not decrease because he misbehaved and that it is the "act" that you did not approve of and not the child.
It's not easy to build self-esteem, it is fleeting and sometimes even adults struggle with it. There are days when you simply feel bad about yourself but the trick is being resilient and bouncing back. Showing your child that your love is unconditional and that you appreciate him/her will go a long way in building toddler self-esteem and help your child grow up to be a confident, self-respecting individual.
What other parenting topics do you want to read about? Let me know in the comments section ;-)
Reference: Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff and SSandee E. Hathaway, What to Expect the Toddler Years (New York: New York, 1994) 292;