Building Self-Esteem in Your Child

By Dr. Aisha Hamdan

One of the most important things that parents can do for their children is to help them develop high self-esteem and a positive self image. Self-esteem is an evaluation of the information contained in a person's self-concept. Self-concept is the combination of terms that a person uses to describe him/herself.

Self-esteem is important because it is seen as a central factor in positive social and emotional adjustment. Children with high self-esteem are capable of making good decisions, are proud of their accomplishments, and are willing to take responsibility and ready to cope with frustration. Also, they are more socially competent, they perform better in school, and are more likely to avoid future serious problems such as school dropout and drug use.

Parents and the family environment obviously play a critical role in the development of high self-esteem. When children feel that they are listened to, taken seriously, and genuinely cared for, their self-esteem is high. Here are a few suggestions that can improve your child's self-esteem.

I ) Nurture the Special Gifts from Allah.

Each child is born in a natural state of submission to Allah (fitrah) and along with this comes a unique personality, temperament, skills, abilities, and special gifts from Allah. These gifts are given to a child for a purpose, and they should be nurtured and allowed to develop to their fullest capacity. Parents play an important role in this area, in that they first need to determine what those gifts are, and then find ways to enhance them. This task will become easier as the child develops, but certain elements are already apparent at an early age. Academics, hobbies, organizations, sports, and other special interests are all means that these special gifts can be nurtured. This point is especially emphasized for girls who are often ignored in this regard. If a child's natural abilities are not allowed to grow, this will have obvious implications for self-esteem. If a child is forced into an area in which there is no interest or ability, he or she will be more likely to have low-esteem, and will probably not live up to the expectations of his/her parents.

2) Communicate With Your Child.

An amazing statistic is that the average American child spends 1680 minutes per week in front of a machine (TV) and only 38.5 minutes in a meaningful conversation with his/her parents. No wonder children lack social skills and families have so many problems. It is very important that parents communicate with their children EVERY DAY, not only for self-esteem enhancement, but for many other reasons. The most critical element for effective communication is listening (really listen) This means giving your child undivided attention, putting aside your feelings and opinions for a moment, and trying to understand those of your child. His ideas, emotions, and feelings should be taken seriously. A parent should show the child that what they do is important and talk with them about their activities and interests. It will obviously be necessary to express values and beliefs, but this should be done in a calm manner and be accompanied with a rationale. Problems should be discussed without placing blame or commenting on a child's character. If children know that there is a problem but don't feel attacked, they are more likely to help find a solution.

3) Foster Responsibility and lndependence.

Ultimately our children will need to make decisions on their own and be accountable to Allah for their own actions. An important component of a healthy self-esteem and sound decision-making is the opportunity to learn and develop these skills. Parents should help their children learn these decision-making and problem-solving skills and encourage the children to use them on a regular basis. These skills can be fostered by giving children responsibilities and gradually allowing them more freedom and control over their lives, especially as they get closer to adulthood. The responsibilities should be reasonable depending on the age of the child and the parent should give support when needed. Children who are given these opportunities will feel useful, valued, and competent. This will also increase the level of trust between parent and child which is a critical element in any relationship.

4) Love Your Child Abundantly.

This means showing, how much you care and telling your child that you love him/her on a regular basis. It also means spending time with your child whenever possible; playing games, talking, sharing favorite activities, taking a walk, praying and reading Qur'an. The list is endless. When parents talk with a child, they should use phrases that build self-esteem such as "Thank you for helping,'' "That was an excellent idea!," "You are terrific!," "What a nice job!," "Masha' Allah." Praise, recognition, special privileges, or increased responsibility may be given for accomplishments and successes. Physical contact is very important such as pats on the back, hugs, strokes, kisses. A sense of humor also goes a long way in dealing with many situations and for strengthening the parent-child relationship. We should remind ourselves that Prophet Muhammad, sallallaahu alayhe wa sallam, was always kind, respectful, and affectionate toward children.

These are just a few of the ways that parents can develop and improve the self esteem of their children. Once a child has acquired a positive feeling about him/herself, this will filter over into other areas of life and the child will become more successful, competent and self-confident. High self-esteem not only has positive implications for the child but also for the family as it shares, grows, and strengthens. This will make the bonds of the family strong and create a beautiful environment for parents and children which is part of the overall plan that Allah has set for the family unit.

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