Think about the last time you started a new job. Questions flooded your mind. What will your new colleagues be like? What exactly is your role on the team? Are you going to be able to make a valuable contribution? You’re excited, but you experience a lot of self-doubt in the beginning. There are so many uncertainties. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know what your workday will look like. You don’t even know exactly where your desk will be. It’s never easy to start something new.

Now consider what it would be like if you constantly faced totally new and unfamiliar things at your job. As soon as you got the hang of one thing, everything shifted and you had to start over again. When you stop to think about it, the first years of a child’s life are kind of like having an ever-changing job. As soon as a child masters one skill, there’s a new one waiting to take its place. Think how hard a baby works to learn to roll over. Then they have to figure out how to crawl, but that’s just the beginning. Walking comes next. And we’re only talking about how to get around. What about the challenges of interacting with parents and siblings, learning how to talk, going to school, making friends? The list goes on and on. It’s a wonder that we don’t all become completely overwhelmed and give up!

You’re there to help your child navigate all of the challenges and self-doubt that come with growing up. By helping your child build their self-esteem, you’re setting them up for success and protecting them from the risk of sexual abuse. Perpetrators often target children that are lonely and isolated. And, if sexual abuse has occurred, building up your child’s self-esteem is especially important and challenging. Research has shown that low self-esteem can be one of the most common long-term effects of abuse.1

As a parent, you can do a lot to build your child up. One expert notes, “To the question, ‘what are the most important influences on self-esteem?’, the simple answer is parents.” Stanley Coppersmith identified four specific ways that parents can build children’s self-esteem.1

01

Accept your child and show affection.

The bottom line is that you and your opinion matter to your child, especially when they’re young. Make sure you communicate often that you love your child and accept them, complete with all of their strengths and weaknesses.
02

Communicate and model clear standards.

Children pattern a lot of their behavior after what they see, especially from their parents. If they observe that you have standards and that living up to your standards brings you fulfillment and confidence, they’ll do the same.
03

Base discipline on explanation rather than force.

Messing up is an inevitable part of life. When your child makes a mistake, see it as an opportunity to teach your child and explain why there’s a problem with their behavior. If grades slip, don’t say, “You’re lazy, and you have to get better grades because I say so.” Say, “I’m worried about your grades.”2 Talk about the importance of education and working hard. An explanation will help your child understand why something is important and build their confidence in their ability to accomplish hard things for the right reasons.
04

Invite children to express views about family decisions.

If you ask your child what they think about something, you are sending the message, “You have great ideas to contribute, and I care what you think.” Your confidence in your child will build their confidence in themselves.

Kids with high self-esteem are confident and autonomous, which makes them a harder target for a potential perpetrator. Help your child see themselves as the talented and capable individual you know they are.

References:
1. Emler, N. (2001). Self-esteem: The Costs and Causes of Low Self-worth. Layerthorpe: Published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by YPS.
2. Sieving, R. E., & Zirbel-Donisch, S. T. (1990). Development and enhancement of self-esteem in children. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 4(6), p. 294.

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