The concept of self-esteem is a difficult one to incorporate into a collectivistic culture such as the South Asian one. Many times, high self-esteem is mistaken for arrogance, narcissism and self-centeredness. South Asian parents often struggle with knowing how to raise a child with confidence without raising him to forget the values of South Asian culture: that the family and the group sometimes come before the individual.
The difference between self-confidence and arrogance is that confidence acts as a protective factor against many emotional health issues, promotes higher functioning in school and results in the child being more socially accepted by his peers. Arrogance or narcissism are often the by-products of low self-esteem, ironically, and are coping mechanisms for the true negative self-evaluations the child has of himself.
A child can be confident and humble at the same time. Here are some tips you can do as a parent to help your child increase his self-esteem without becoming arrogant.
Set your child up to succeed. Whether it’s putting a toy close enough so that your 5 month old who can’t move on his own can still reach it or asking your teenager to make a simple dessert for the family, make sure the tasks are doable. The best task for confidence building is one that is just slightly above their skill level but still within reach. By encouraging them to try, they will have to learn to be creative, overcome frustration and will feel successful when they complete the task.
Avoid comparisons. Children learn how to value themselves based on their perception of how much their parents value them. If you are always comparing to other children, whether they be siblings or friends, the child learns that as a parent you don’t find them to be valuable. This chips away at their self-esteem and they internalize the feeling that they are not loveable, successful or valuable.
Teach realistic expectations. Some children from a very young age are perfectionists. While South Asian parents might boast about their precocious child, in fact perfectionist tendencies are often risk factors for high stress, increased physical health problems and anxiety disorders in the future. Children who are perfectionists learn to be that way from their parents. Instead of trying to achieve perfection, teach your child how to have realistic expectations from themselves, others and situations. This is a great way for your child to learn how to handle frustration, an inevitable part of life.
Improve your own self-confidence. Children with low self-confidence often have one or both parents who struggle with self-esteem issues too. Your self-image will directly affect how you parent your child and you will pass on, sometimes unknowingly, your self-esteem issues to your child. Just as some children learn certain mannerisms by watching their parents, they will also learn negative self-talk which is a key marker for low self-esteem. Improve your self esteem by reading these tips and talking to a professional to work on why you developed low self-confidence in your life. You will be significantly helping your child’s development by doing this.
Be mindful of your mirror. Children look to parents, especially their primary caretaker, as a mirror for his/her own feelings. Infants learn how to identify emotions by watching their parents reactions. A child who is about to crawl off the edge of the bed will first look to his parent to see if it’s safe. If the parent has a fear face, the child will internalize that fear and will change his behavior accordingly. Similarly, if you are unhappy, depressed or constantly worried, your child will pick up on that too. They will identify those emotions as familiar and will believe that he/she is the cause of your depression or unhappiness. Their self-concept becomes about how successful they are at making their parents happy. If they can’t improve their parents’ mood, they believe they are a failure, which further lowers their self-esteem. Be sure you know what message you are sending to your child, especially to a young one, so they don’t mistake your emotional issues as their own.
Play with your child. First, it teachers your child that they are worth your time, which helps them increase self-esteem. You will also learn a lot about your child when you sit down and play with him/her. Let your child initiate the play, determine the rules and establish your role in the play. Try to avoid putting your own set of rules as most of the time they will be from an adult’s perspective which is not developmentally appropriate for the child. In addition, allowing your child to lead tells the child that you like to do what they like to do, which is very important in establishing a strong sense of self. Make sure you are fully tuned into the play and that your mind isn’t wandering. Children are very perceptive and they will notice when you are not fully present.
Give your child responsibilities. Many parents believe that children should stay young children for as long as possible as they have the rest of their life to fulfill responsibilities. In fact, without having responsibilities at home, children learn to feel as if they don’t matter. Providing your child opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate tasks around the house can help them feel connected to the family and valued as a member.
Encourage emotional expression. South Asian parents mistakenly assume that children have no stressors and thus must be happy all the time. In fact, children experience many ups and downs including pressures to perform well at school, transitioning to new situations, family issues, etc. Teach your child proper emotional expression. Sometimes for younger children, it helps to ask them to draw or play out their feelings as they express themselves that way better than through verbal language. However they do it, help them put words to their feelings. This teaches them that their experiences are important and valuable. In addition, they learn how to appropriately cope with difficult situations, a factor that helps improve self-esteem.
Listen to your child. They will tell you what they need. Some children require more physical affection like hugs and kisses, others require more verbal praise. Be mindful that each of your children is an entirely different person and that they will each require very different things. Providing them what they need shows them that they are important to you and thus as they grow they will internalize that they are an important person in general. This will help increase their self-esteem as well.
In general, factors to build self-esteem are built in to everything that a parent does. Validating a child’s experience, spending time with them, even responding when the child cries all send a strong message about the value, importance and worth of the child. On the flip side, parent’s own issues, marital problems and their personalities imposed on the child negatively affect the child’s self-esteem. Children are sponges and no matter what happens they are absorbing every second of it. Your job as a parent is to help your child reach his/her potential with what he is born with. As a famous psychology research said, you don’t have to be the perfect parent to have a child with healthy self-esteem, you just have to be good enough.
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