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by Sally Burgess, Forefront Families

Self-esteem is a term that is often synonymous with teen years. However, how we feel about ourselves starts at the very beginning of our lives. Self-esteem is the value we place upon ourselves. Feelings are always subjective so, unless we have developed a very positive self-esteem over the years, outside influences will easily affect us to make us feel fragile and insecure. A positive self-esteem has much to do with trust, love and respect. The trust, love and respect we get from others builds the trust, love and respect we develop in ourselves.

An infant cries when in they are need of comfort or food. When those needs are satisfied immediately, trust is developed in the child. As the infant starts to learn to roll over, crawl and then walk, much encouragement and adulation tells the child he is doing the right thing, that he is pleasing his parents. As he observes others already doing what he is trying to do, then he knows it is possible and keeps trying until he can master the skill himself. The more he tries and the more positive reinforcement he gets the greater his confidence becomes. At this point the value he places on himself is in direct response to how his parents express their feelings towards him.

An infant's self-worth will be negatively affected when his needs are either not met, or his parents' responses are inconsistent. There is a story told of an experiment done at orphanages during the war years. Half the infants were hugged, bathed and fed consistently. The others were handled as little as possible and only their basic needs were met. The first group flourished and the second group died for lack of the love and nurturing that was necessary to create a sense of security. Such an experiment would have been criminal in today's society, but it did demonstrate the absolute necessity for a child to feel loved, valued, cared for and, indirectly, given a hope for the future.

A toddler learns that there are things that make his parents happy and there are things that do not. When boundaries are clearly stated and demonstrated, they know what is expected of them so they can act in confidence within those expectations. They need to hear praise for making the right decision while still being allowed to make a few mistakes during training. This will help preserve and build their self-esteem. To shout or pounce without warning when a wrong move is made, or neglecting to give praise when they make a good decision, is to make the child nervous and afraid to try further.

When a parent is constantly ignoring the child and/or saying 'no', the child becomes frustrated and begins to develop negative feelings about himself. They will be more tentative in outlook (not try new skills) for fear of being given another disapproving parental response. They will likely cry more, be reserved, or may become belligerent and demand attention. After all, negative attention is better than none at all, right?

Another contributing factor is that our kids' self-esteem is affected by how we feel about ourselves as parents. If we don't give ourselves personal value it is very difficult to develop personal value in our children. It is very important for our kids to have positive role models. Are we that? If you need help in improving your own self-esteem there are many resources available. You will have a vastly different outlook on life when you see it with a positive and hopeful view. Your whole household will be buzzing with possibilities and you and your kids will achieve great things. Go for it!

A child has the right to expect a safe, secure and nurturing environment. They also need to hear and feel affirmation from parents all through their lives. With parental encouragement and positive role modeling a child's positive self-esteem will ably prepare them to face a bright future.

If you have any comments or questions on this subject, please do not hesitate to contact us at sally@forefrontfamilies.org. We invite you to also check out our website at www.forefrontfamilies.org and our blog site at www.forefrontfamilies.blogspot.com for further assistance.

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