baby on swing set
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Fostering your child’s self-esteem

You know there are a lot of things in Baby’s not-so-distant future that could test his self-esteem, from mean kids on the playground to that one subject in school that he just won’t be able to grasp as well as he’d like. He may be a few years away from these threats to his sense of self, but it’s never too early to start building up his defenses so that when they come, he will be ready.

Baby see, baby do

One of the biggest components in Baby’s self-esteem is his confidence in his ability to cope with whatever life throws at him. And one of the most important ways he figures that out is by watching you model proportionate, reasonable responses to the challenges the world can introduce.

The way you act around Baby is a strong influence on what he thinks is normal, and the way he views the world. If he sees you and your partner reacting with panic any time something small goes wrong, he may start to build up the idea that any small challenge is a catastrophe, and he may not feel equipped to handle that. On the other hand, if he sees a model of stoic acceptance even of problems that genuinely are catastrophic, he may start to feel, as he grows up, that having negative responses when bad things happen means that he can’t cope with problems, which can hurt his sense of self-worth.

The gift of your presence

When Baby was a newborn, you started laying the groundwork for his self-esteem by meeting his needs, which gave him both the sense of being safe and happy and the beginnings of the sense that the fact that he was safe and happy was important to somebody, and the proto-understanding of his value. You’re still doing that every day, when you make him breakfast, change that dirty diaper, or read him a story at night, but it’s not just the fact of his physical well-being that’s important. The time you spend with him, one-on-one, engaging with him and looking him in the eye, is becoming increasingly important as he grows older, and differentiates themselves from you further, and your opinion grows more and more important to him.

Baby Marco Polo

Baby has been getting more and more mobile since he first learned to roll over, and he has been curious about the world since long before that. Giving him the chance to explore his environment, with your watchful eye on him to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble both gives him the sense of freedom to help him build the confidence that’s crucial to his sense of self-worth while, at the same time helping him feel safe knowing you’re close.

If he runs into an obstacle in his adventures and it doesn’t put him in any danger, try waiting a moment to intervene, and giving him the chance to solve the problem for themselves. The knowledge that he can rely on themselves to resolve issues as they come up is another important building block in the structure of his self-esteem.

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