Raising Resilience - Tackling Self Esteem
Module two : Lesson two
Having a healthy self-esteem is what enables children to be able to be more cooperative, make better decisions, be more compassionate towards other people, to consider other's needs, and to be more resilient, to bounce back after a challenge. One of the key ingredients of raising resilient children is boosting their self-esteem and giving them that opportunity to build their confidence. But how do we do that, and how do we know whether our child needs support with their self-esteem or not? Because it is going to impact their behavior. What I want to do is I want to break down the three key areas that children are going to naturally need support through in order to build their healthy self-esteem.
The first one is autonomy. Between 14 to 18 months, children are going to begin realizing that they are their own independent individuals. You know? They're independent of their primary caregiver or their parent, and they are capable of making their own decisions. This is when the terrible twos kicks in, because children are starting to push and find where does this boundary begin and end? Where does my control begin, and where does my mom, or my dad, or my caregivers, where does their control begin and end? This turns into very frequent power struggles, and that might look like tantrums. That might look like aggression. It might look like defiance, disobedience. Those disruptive behaviors that are often very challenging for us, more often than not, are actually a natural, necessary part of your young child's development, when they're exploring their autonomy.
Knowing that, children are going to engage in behaviors that are seeking control. They're finding ways to experience more control. More feelings of empowerment are all natural stages in their early self-esteem. We can actually create opportunities for them to navigate these stages safely, securely, and knowing that, we're not teaching them to suppress something that is natural. I think that's the key here. Again, it goes back to coaching over punishment, because when children are running away after we've said, "Let's walk safely together," we need to remember that there is a natural draw in them to defy us, in order to basically research that autonomy, to discover and detest, to troubleshoot that natural stage of development. Yes. There are going to be times when it is unsafe and we need to stop. We need to put some clear boundaries in place. But we also need to recognize that this is natural and necessary and to create opportunities for them to do so safely.
Now, the next area, after autonomy, children are really going to be exploring their identity. What is my role? What is my significance? What am I good at? What do I need help with? These questions around identity can often look like over competitiveness, sibling rivalry. All of these behaviors that I hear about so often from the families and the educators that I work with are reflective, again, of a natural, necessary part of your young child's development. When we focus on giving children the opportunity to discover their identity, we do this through self-discovery activities. Then what you're going to find is that self-esteem starts to build. That confidence starts to build. You can find healthier ways to give them empowerment.
I think a great example of this is when a child is perhaps jealous of the baby. We tend to bring our own emotional definitions into these situations. But more often than not, it's simply your child saying, "What is my significance? What is my role now? If I'm no longer the only child, if I'm no longer the baby in the family, then what is my role? How do I fit in here?" If you are feeding the baby, and your toddler or three or four year old comes running up and maybe smacks you, or smacks the baby, or rubs up against you, or maybe pretends to be hurt, so you'll give them attention, we call these attention seeking behaviors. But remember, as soon as we start labeling behaviors like that, it actually takes away from the child's needs and focuses more on our discomfort. I prefer to look closely at what my child needs in the moment, in order to fully understand how I can support them, in order to help them make a better decision.
In this example, as soon as your child comes running up, if you know that there is going to be an aversive behavior that will follow, then often sometimes just giving them a role or a new responsibility, something that defines a clear sense of identity for them, we'll find that that will start to replace the disruptive problem behaviors. Right? Something like, "Would you like to help me with the baby? Would you like to get the baby's nappy? Would you like to choose their outfit? What's a way that you can be an awesome big brother?" By simply giving them an alternative to draw from, then what we'll find is their self-esteem starts to naturally build. Children love being responsible, and they love being held accountable for taking care of others. It gives them a sense of purpose. This is ultimately going to lead to that healthier self-esteem that we're craving so much.
The third area, your child is going to be exploring their capability. What am I capable of? What am I able to do? Now, again, this is going to be where some of the most difficult behavior might kick in. Your child is going to be taking risks more often, because they want to figure out where that safety begins and ends and what they are truly able to do. I think the best way to cope with this is to allow for safe risks. One way that we can do this is when your child is engaging in difficult behaviors and you know that they are troubleshooting their capability, one of the key things is to stop and pause, before we correct or before we remove the opportunity for them to explore further.
Remember, it's not so much about how uncomfortable we feel. It's more so about what they need in the moment. Just pause and be mindful of the response. Am I considering their needs, or am I just taking care of my own discomfort right now? That's the first thing is to pause. The second thing is to ask questions, rather than giving them the solution in the moment, which I know is the draw. We're drawn to solving things as quickly as possible for them. However, what I want to encourage you to do is start asking more questions. Start helping them navigate. Show them how they can find their own solutions to the problems that they are experiencing. Rather than giving them the answer immediately, we want to think of some creative ways to just get those executive functioning skills kicking in and get them the practice that they need in order to boost their self-esteem.
Then the third way that we can help our child while they're exploring their capability is by making sure that we're not accidentally punishing the process. What I mean by that is sometimes children will engage in things that we encourage them not to. We're like, "Mate, if you do that, you might get hurt, so don't run in the house." But they ran in the house anyway, because they're testing out their capability, and now they're hurt. We might say something like, "I told you so. I told you that what happened. You should've listened." But what happens here is we are shaming a natural, necessary process, where children are developing that intrinsic sense of capability, and identity, and overall, their self-esteem. We want to be very mindful of the language that we are using, that we are reinforcing and encouraging the process, rather than punishing it. Hopefully that gives you just a few places to start when raising your child's healthy self-esteem.