"Self-esteem" is one of the most discussed issues among parents and infant and child developmentalists. Psychologically, self-esteem can become quite complicated, but let's stick to the basics and see if we can shed some light on it.
"I Want to Be Like You, Mom and Dad!"My son used to love to ‘shave’ with me. I would help him lather up his cheeks and give him an empty razor so he could pretend. But, on a busy morning, it was easy to forget how important his drive to imitate my behavior really was, and how much of a compliment it was, too. As the minutes ticked by, I would try to remember this, however, and to encourage and support his play-acting. I would guess most parents have had the same experience. To remain patient, I would remind myself about just how much of a role model parents are to their children and what a big help it can be in cementing your relationship and providing guidance. Keeping this in mind may help prevent you from misunderstanding some of your child’s imitative behavior and from injuring your child’s good-hearted impulse to be like you and be liked by you.
Responding to Your Infant's Signals
The actual process of perceiving and responding to your infant's signals requires an awareness that the infant has signals and the child is making an effort to communicate. Next, it requires the adult to internally integrate the incoming message with their own understanding, past experience and so on, so they can sort out the possible meaning of the signal--that is, the meaning of the message that's being sent. And, finally, the process includes a response from the adult. Dr. Ivri Kumin, a psychoanalyst in Seattle, Washington, has recently written an elegant book that delves into these processes in great detail.
The Foundation of Self-Esteem
From the first days of your baby’s life, you can lay the foundation for self-esteem by responding appropriately to your child’s signals for help (distress, anger, etc.) and fun (interest and enjoyment).
Building Your Child's Self-Esteem
When a baby finds that her signals are validated and responded to appropriately--that troubles are soothed and pleasure enhanced--she begins to sense that her feelings--the expressions of her very being--are of value and important. A baby learns that she counts for something. This is the foundation of the development of self-esteem--a combination of who you are, how you feel about yourself, and what you think about your future potential.
Self-esteem takes root or withers depending on how you handle your child’s signals of fun--interest and enjoyment-- and the signals for help--distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell.
How to Help Your Child Build Self-Esteem
Babies thrive when they feel they are of genuine interest to you and are the center of your universe. They use their nine signals to express their entire range of emotions. When a baby cries, or fusses, or coos, she expects you to react with as much enthusiasm or distress as she does about what is happening to her.
Along with paying attention, reward and praise from you are essential to a child’s self-esteem. You must never forget how much your child wants to be like you and also to be liked by you. Kids need to hear that you approve of them and think they are wonderful.
How Self-Esteem is Damaged
Some parents inadvertently diminish their children’s self-esteem by interfering with or belittling their signals for interest and enjoyment. This triggers the automatic, built-in response of shame, and shame erodes self-esteem.