One of the most important things we can do as parents is to help our children develop positive feelings about themselves. Children with good self-concepts are more likely to grow into happy and productive members of society.
Parents have a lot to do with how children see and feel about themselves. Providing a warm, loving relationship filled with support, encouragement, and interest in the child helps children feel good about themselves. Children who grow up with constant criticism, scoldings, or discouraging remarks are not likely to see themselves as worthy and good people.
There are many things that parents can do to help children develop good self-concepts. Here are a few suggestions:
Communicate respect and confidence in your children. Give them opportunities to make choices when possible. Provide opportunities to make a contribution. Assign them household chores they can handle, such as making their bed, helping to sort laundry, or setting the table.
Be sure your children know you love them—even when their behavior is not acceptable. Children need to know they are loved and valued for who they are, not for what they do. Accept their feelings while helping them learn appropriate ways to express and handle negative ones. Teach your child, for example, that it's OK to be angry and to use words to talk about what is bothering him or her, but it's not OK to hurt others.
Praise your child … thoughtfully. Be genuine and specific with praise. Children recognize empty compliments or insincere praise. Think about what you are teaching your child through the things you praise. For example, praising your child when he or she makes a good choice teaches responsibility and that he or she is capable of making good decisions. You teach your child to value effort if you praise hard work as well as praising your child's achievements. Sometimes, responding to your child's efforts with appreciation is as powerful as praise.
Give your child opportunities to explore and learn. Take trips together to the supermarket, the library, and places in the community. Mastering new situations helps children develop confidence. Trips together also show children that you value spending time with them.
To learn more about empowering your child to become confident and self-disciplined, check out this book: Raising a Self-Disciplined Child: Help your child become more responsible, confident, and resilient, by Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein, available from your neighborhood library or a bookstore.
"Who I Am!" Activities
Activities focusing on your children—their growth, their ideas, their preferences—can be a fun way to talk about these things together. Time spent on an activity about your child also communicates how important and special your child is to you.
Here are two suggestions for activities to try:
This Is Me
Have your child lie down on the large sheet of paper. Using a marker, trace the outline of your child's body on the paper. You and your child can then cut out the silhouette you have drawn. Next, your child may like to use the crayons, markers, or paint to draw his or her face on the head and to color in clothes.
Together you and your child can create his or her personal timeline. Get out a wide selection of pictures of your child at various ages. Let your child pick out ones he or she would like to put on the timeline. Attach the pictures to poster board, beginning with the youngest picture and continuing in chronological order. Have your child describe the pictures, while you write captions beneath them, using his or her words.
Note: As with any activity, the primary idea is to have fun together. If your child is not interested in the idea, save it for another time. Instead, you and your child can explore together ideas for an alternate activity. Using your child's interests and ideas as the basis for an activity may be the best way of all to show your child how much you value who he or she is!
Brooks, R. & Goldstein, S. (2007). Raising a Self-Disciplined Child: Help your child become more responsible, confident, and resilient. New York: McGraw Hill.
Van Horn, J. (April 1994). Self-concept is important (Part I and II). Penpages.
Edited by: Rose Fisher Merkowitz, Extension Educator–Family and Consumer Sciences, Highland County; Kathy L. Jelley, Extension Educator–Family and Consumer Sciences, Brown County; and Scott Scheer, Professor and Extension Specialist–Human and Community Resource Development and 4-H Youth Development, The Ohio State University.