Our work as men and women raising children is important because our influence lasts a lifetime. But what are the most important gifts we give our children? Self-love, self-concept, and self-esteem.
Self-love is the most essential of all skills. It is a concept children learn from the way parents (and other adults) treat them. Children first need to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are. With this as a basis, their natural impulse is to take that love and learn to contribute it to the world in constructive ways. It is not difficult then, to see that self-love is the best gift we can give our children.
Self-love in children, as in adults, means liking themselves, enjoying themselves, and accepting themselves. Children need to know that although parents may not always like what they do, or have done, we still like and love them. There is a great difference between rejecting a child’s behavior and rejecting the child. Help the child understand that he or she is a human being and as a human being, he or she will make mistakes. Our goal is to help children learn from those mistakes and assist them in making corrections.
We also help the child look for strengths by helping him or her experience success. Success, obviously, means different things to different children. For one child success might mean being able to put on his or her snow boots without help, and being told, “Good job!” Another child may experience success by remembering to put his or her toys away before bedtime.
Self-concept is the image we have of ourselves. It means liking ourselves just the way we are. To teach children about self-concept, we must look at them without labels or comparisons. If a child is taller than most of the other children in his or her class, he or she may feel awkward. However, if the child is taught that his or her height is an asset of which to be proud, the child will grow up with respect for him- or herself and others.
There are things about every child that is unique. It is by zeroing in on each special quality—whether it is their willingness to let someone else ride their trike, their whimsical sense of humor, or their ability to carry a tune—that we give children a positive sense of self. Children take great pride and delight in the knowledge that there is no one exactly like them in the world. Share a child’s uniqueness by looking into his or her eyes with a smile that says, “You are special. I love to be with you!”
Self-esteem has been defined as “the sense of being lovable and capable.” When these two qualities are in sync, a child has high self-esteem.
Children learn about themselves and know themselves only by reflection. For the first important years of their lives, parents are the major influence providing this reflection to the child. Later on, teachers and friends in addition to parents provide this reflection.
As parents, we want to make everything right and wonderful for our children. We want to eliminate conflict, disappointment, rejection, and failure from their lives. But we need to remember that life is a process. Children will encounter conflict, disappointment, rejection, and failure as they move through life. It is by giving them a strong sense of self-love, self-concept, and self-esteem that we prepare them to learn what life is all about. This is our most important task as parents.
Dora Fowler, MBA, is founder and executive director of the National Institute of Child Care Management. She is also the founder of the National Association of Child Care Professionals.