As a teacher, I very quickly specialised in children who presented with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I recognised it was my role to educate them in maths, English and the ten plus subjects that they needed to be taught. However, it was also very obvious to me that these children needed something more. I felt passionate and committed to helping these children understand some of the difficult and complex feelings that they had which hugely affected their well-being. No matter how clever they had the potential to be unless they received lots of emotional understanding and learning different ways of doing things, these kids could miss out on the most important thing we want for our children – happiness.
When I became a parent, I found myself challenged with the level of responsibility and pressure to ensure that my children did not become as emotionally vulnerable as some of the children who I had worked with for many years. Parenting was by far the most difficult job that I had done as it was the most important. Don’t get me wrong the love and commitment I had for my class really wasn’t much different to what I felt for my own children but this role, as a Mum was about me helping my children evolve from the blank canvas that they were born as.
As parents, we are fundamental in how our child’s canvas develops. How much colour is present? How much grey? How the colours are dispersed, how bright those colours are and more importantly how appealing the final product is within our culture.
Raising children with good self-esteem takes patience, huge, regular bundles of patience, as children translate patience into love. Patience means being gentle. Patience makes us listen more actively. Patience means we find time in this crazy fast world to stop and just be at the moment with our children. This love then becomes locked away inside our kids and activates a core message that runs through them like a stick of rock. In order for children to develop a good level of self-esteem, the message needs to be positive – “I am ok. I’m not perfect, I have faults, but I am ok. I am worthy of love.”
Reading this may make you feel pressured as it is your job and you, like every parent has and will make mistakes. You too just need to be ok, not perfect, you have flaws and bad days too. I had to have a serious word with myself when both my children were small. Coping day to day with sleep deprivation, a hungry breastfeeding baby and a toddler was tough. Some days I was not the best Mum. As I had only ever worked with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, it seemed so easy to mess up children and damage their self-esteem. Please let me reassure you now it isn’t that easy.
Long term damage to self-esteem develops over time. Not from a bad day here and there, though how we re-engage with our child afterwards is essential. Apologies and explanations mean we take responsibility for negative actions and don’t leave them with the child. It also means that we model real emotions and make mistakes a normal part of being human. If we don’t re-connect emotionally afterwards, that can make children feel like it is their fault and they aren’t good enough. It is this internal dialogue that can also begin the spiral of low self-esteem.
Children’s self-esteem starts with us. We have to find as many ways to show children that we not only love them but like them. Also, it is essential that if our children have pushed us into going off them that we ensure that this stage is only ever temporary, and we get back on them as soon as possible. Children are highly sensitive to this emotional withdrawal and that too fosters low self-esteem.
Raising children with good self-esteem is not difficult if we practise positive parenting and keep reflecting throughout the process. None of us is perfect but with love, patience, and emotional warmth our children’s canvases can be bright, colourful and most of all happy.
By Andrea Chatten – Children’s Emotional & Behavioural Psychologist and Author of The Blinks Novels
CLICK HERE to read about Andrea’s book series ‘The Blinks’ book series that were created to help children, young people, and their families understand emotional and behavioural issues.