The Building Blocks of Self-Esteem

Learn how to instill a sense of worth in your preschooler

The average preschooler thinks he's the center of the world, so it seems a bit counterintuitive to try to build up his self-esteem. But the way your child feels about himself in these early years will be the foundation of his self-image later on.

A preschooler sees himself through his parents' eyes. His belief in his abilities is fueled by daily interactions with his parents and primary caregivers. Playing games, talking, reading, and helping a parent with chores show a child he is loved and valued. While these everyday interactions with your child are an important part of helping him build a healthy self-image, it's your overall attitude toward your child that will have the biggest impact. These guidelines can help you instill a sense of worth in your child:

Encourage your preschooler's individuality. Focus on your child's actions without clouding them with your own expectations. For instance, if your daughter puts on a striped shirt with plaid pants, praise her ability to dress herself instead of critiquing her mismatched outfit.

Offer specific comments about his strengths. Instead of saying, "Good job," say, "You hit the ball!" If your child draws you a picture, comment on the use of color, the straight lines, or anything else that catches your eye.

Take ideas and feelings seriously. Talk with your child about his interests and concerns without trivializing them. Make eye contact with your child while he expresses himself and repeat back to him the general idea of what he said. This validates his feelings and helps you be more engaged. Avoid responses like, "You shouldn't feel bad that you weren't picked to hand out snacks at preschool." That tells him his feelings are wrong. Instead, sympathize with him and hold him for a few minutes.

Give responsibility. Let your child help with appropriate chores around the house. Assign her an easy task such as dusting or setting the table, sorting laundry, or matching socks. If your child enjoys helping around the house, teach her to make her bed or fold her clothes.

Praise judiciously. Compliment your child for his efforts, improvements, and for helping others. Let your child overhear you saying something good about him to another person, such as, "Mark really helped our family today by picking up his toys. He understands that someone might trip over them and get hurt. Isn't that thoughtful?" Help him feel good about what his actions say about him, and not just the attention they bring.

Set a good example. Be proud of your successes and tolerant of your own weaknesses. Portray an attitude of acceptance and the willingness to try harder next time.

Offer a prayer. Make sure your child knows that her real value comes from being a child of God. When you pray, thank God for the person he created in your preschooler. Again, offer specific thanks for the godly character you see in your child.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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