As a clinical psychologist working with children under 18, and a parent of two, I am fascinated by how children develop good self-esteem. All of us – young and old – experience dips in confidence in life – that is the normal ebb and flow of things. However as parents we can increase our children’s resilience. I wanted to share some practical ideas from my personal and professional experience that should be easy to hold in mind when relating to your child.
1. Observing Our Children
In our busy lives, juggling home, work and school, we often rely on our children to occupy themselves. This is of course a crucial skill for children to learn, in order for them to face the world independently. But there is also a flip side to this. When your baby was new born, did you sometimes gaze at them for long stretches, looking into their eyes – falling in love? We know that this ‘staring’ is not a result of sleep deprivation! It is actually essential in building a healthy bond – or attachment. It enables your child to learn about your love for them, that you are interested in them and what they do. It soothes and contains them and through your warmth, heart rate and tone, they learn how to manage their feelings. This is something they will carry with them for life. I believe that the need for being mindfully observed continues into late childhood and beyond. In fact I believe it enables us as parents to recreate and reinforce that early bonding experience, ultimately increasing our child’s self esteem; observing and being interested in our children makes them feel worthwhile.
2. How and When to Observe Our Children
Try taking just a few minutes to observe your child when they are not expecting your time or attention. They could be playing, doing homework or even watching TV. Comment on what you see and what it means to you and then get back to those ever-demanding tasks! This act itself will provide you with a small pause, slow your heart rate and help you to relax, which when interacting with your child will make them feel calmer too (even if for just a minute!).
By stopping to observe their expressions or how they tackle problems – without stepping in – we learn what excites, interests, confuses and challenges them. Feeding your observations back to your child will enable them to see how important they are to you and that you are interested in them: they will absorb your pride, as you watch how they tackle their world. This builds their self-esteem.
Some Sample Observations
“I love your laugh! “You look like you are really enjoying that programme.”
“I just saw you let go of that toy and avoid a row. That makes me feel so proud”
“Is it difficult / frustrating trying to colour in the lines? I find that too sometimes.”
NEXT UP – Look out for my next post ‘How we talk about our children’.
Naira Wilson is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and a mum of 2 young children. She specialises in childhood mental health and has worked in the NHS, in various capacities, for 19 years. She currently works in a Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service for Oxford Health Foundation Trust. To read more about Naira click here
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