Conquering kids' anxieties by building self-esteem.
Published: January 25, 2018
By: Sandi Schwartz
Do you know how your children feel about themselves? Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a shocking moment in a family to realize that children are unhappy with themselves and their life.
The way we feel about ourselves falls under the umbrella of self-esteem, which we hear so much about during teenage years. But building a healthy self-esteem begins much earlier.
Children who have a healthy self-esteem feel valued, accepted, confident and proud. They think positive things about themselves and are prepared to face everyday stresses and challenges.
However, children suffering from low self-esteem are hard on themselves. They feel that they’re not as good as others. Focusing on their failures instead of successes, they lack confidence and doubt their abilities. They worry about people not accepting them for who they are. Unfortunately, this negative outlook can lead to being treated poorly by others and prevent them from taking on new challenges. They may give up easily and struggle to bounce back from their failures and mistakes.
According to Dr. Marilyn Sorenson of the Self-Esteem Institute, low self-esteem is “a thinking disorder in which people view themselves as inadequate, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovable, and/or incompetent.” Sadly, this type of thinking can impact every aspect of daily life and can ultimately result in developing fears about not knowing whom to trust or how to cope with new situations, for example.
How Self-Esteem And Anxiety Are Linked
The worries that accompany prolonged low self-esteem can lead to anxiety. Children with low self-esteem question whether they are worthy and able to be loved because of a discrepancy between how they see themselves and what they wish they were like. They are always striving to be different or better, and they feel disappointed when they don’t meet their own expectations. This perspective ultimately can cause them to be fearful or on guard, always expecting the worst to happen.
The relationship between self-esteem and anxiety ends up being an endless cycle: Low self-esteem triggers anxiety, and being anxious causes one’s confidence to diminish as fear takes over. According to a Swiss study, low self-esteem is equally effective at raising the risk of anxiety as anxiety is at decreasing self-esteem. Low self-esteem makes people vulnerable to obsessing over negative thoughts, which can result in anxiety and depression.
A typical example is how people with low self-confidence tend to worry about looking like a fool in front of others. This may cause them to become so nervous in social situations that they develop social anxiety and/or panic attacks. They may then avoid certain activities and shy away from relationships, which can impact the quality of their lives.
How to Raise Children With Healthy Self-Esteem
Our children do not become confident because we praise them constantly and reward them for every little move they make. Instead, children need to lose and fail in order to build resiliency so they can keep learning and growing. According to experts, self-esteem results from experiences in which children feel accepted, capable and effective. Based on these three criteria, here are some ways you can help build self-esteem.
•Love your children unconditionally.
Let them know you love them no matter how much they fail or how many bad decisions they make. Learning, growing, trying new things and experiencing all life has to offer is more important than whether they win or lose, pass or fail.
•Show them you understand. When kids feel understood by a parent, they’re likely to accept themselves, too. Keep the line of communication open and be a supportive listener.
•Make them feel special. Help your children discover their interests, talents and strengths. Teach them it’s OK to feel proud for their accomplishments (as long as they don’t think they’re better than everyone else, of course).
•Avoid harsh criticism. The words and tone you use can really impact their self-worth.
•Praise strategically. Praising our kids too much can backfire. Try praising their effort or attitude as opposed to qualities they can’t change, like their athletic ability. Also, avoid focusing on results (such as getting an A) and more on the hard work they put into something.
•Let them do things themselves. Give them the space to take risks and make mistakes so they can learn how to solve problems on their own. Accomplishing tasks by themselves will make them feel proud.
•Support them from a distance. When they’re learning how to do new things, let them know that you are available to help them if they need it. Then let them do what they can, even if they make mistakes. Keep challenging them to reach new levels.
•Expand their horizons. Give them plenty of opportunities to try new activities, see new places and meet different people. The more their comfort zone expands, the better they will handle worrisome situations in the future. If they are scared, encourage but don’t push too hard.
•Set realistic, attainable goals. By setting goals, we encourage our children to take on new challenges. When they reach them, they can feel happy and proud of their accomplishments. Be sure to set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. Being flexible is also important.
•Let them make their own choices. Give your kids the chance to make some age-appropriate choices, such as picking out their own clothes, what snack to eat or which toy to take on vacation. Allowing kids to make their own decisions will help them feel powerful and confident. They will also learn to consider the consequences of their decisions and to take responsibility for their actions. A good trick is to give them three options to choose from, which still gives them a sense of empowerment.
•Give them responsibilities. In building self-esteem, kids need opportunities to demonstrate their competence and value. Give them some simple chores to do around the house — their reward will be how proud they feel.