Self-esteem important to possess at an early age

Lighthouse column
By: Angela Ponivas Special to The News Messenger
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Self-esteem affects so many aspects of our lives. It affects interactions in relationships, affects our achievement levels and affects our own sense of happiness and well-being. For parents, it’s important to understand how self-esteem plays into the behavior of a child and learn how to build positive self-esteem in our children because low self-esteem can lead to misbehavior. The child who believes he/she is bad tailors his/her actions to fit this view, leading to a more firmly entrenched inner conviction that he/she is “bad.” Many youth and adults, whose behavior is detrimental to themselves and society as a whole, privately believe they are hopelessly inadequate and worthless. They grope for personal meaning and fulfillment, and their misdirected efforts lead to a lower self-identity. The youth with high self-esteem is rarely the problem child. He/she walks, talks, works, learns, plays and lives differently from the one who dislikes himself. The inner security radiates outwardly in his/her actions. As adults, such individuals are better able to work constructively on problems and inequities that exist in our world. The child with self-respect is likely to be a constructive member of society. Self-esteem can be defined as how you feel about yourself inwardly, not whether you can put up a good front or accumulate wealth and status. The very term, self-confidence, means inner sureness. It says that, at the core, you trust your capacities and you act accordingly. To build pictures of ourselves as truly adequate, to feel thoroughly alright inside, children need living experiences that prove their lovability and worth. Telling a child he is special is not enough. Experience is what counts. To young children, father and mother are all-powerful and all knowing. Small children reason, “Since my parents are all-powerful and all-knowing, then they treat me as I deserve to be treated.” The parents’ words and body language to a child builds the self-picture. Parents are like mirrors, reflecting to the child a sense of self. From the judgments of others, a child’s own judgment of himself/herself emerges. And the more he/she likes his self-image, the higher his self-esteem. By age 5, a child has usually collected enough reflections to form an over-all estimate of his worth that could last a lifetime. Suggestions for creating a positive self-image in your child include: * Both fathers and mothers are to look into your infant’s eyes with love and appreciation. * Encourage your child by inquiring about his/her feelings and building upon the information received with affirmations, understanding and coaching. * Allow your child to explore and play in his/her environment. To not allow a child to explore and play only creates fears and feelings of inadequacy. * Seek to understand your child’s personality. We all learn differently, i.e. visual learners, audible learners, etc. And we all have individual strengths and weaknesses. Build up your child’s strengths and minimize weaknesses. * Treat your child as an individual and stop comparing your child to others. * Never tell your child that he/she is “bad” and seek to never shame your child by causing your child embarrassment or by calling your child negative names. These are only a few suggestions. It should be noted that sometimes parents can do everything right and issues still surface. This is important because now is the time to look for professional help. Seeking professional help is not an admission of failure and it doesn’t necessarily mean a long, drawn-out series of counseling sessions. It means being aware of certain risk factors and behaviors and wanting to help your child. To learn more about parenting techniques, call the Lighthouse at 645-3300. Angela Ponivas is the Lighthouse Counseling & Family Resource Center’s executive director. Her phone is 645-3300 and Web site is