One of the greatest gifts that you can give your child is the gift of self-esteem—the ability to feel good about yourself no matter what kind of curve balls life happens to toss your way. Self-esteem is important because it can have a major influence on a person’s accomplishments, ability to form friendships, and happiness throughout childhood and adulthood. Here are some tips on promoting your child’s self-esteem: • Start with yourself first. It’s hard to encourage your child to feel good about herself if you positively radiate “I hate myself” vibes each time you look in the mirror. If a selfesteem tune-up seems like it may be a good idea, there’s no time like the present to start working with a counselor to get your own psychological house in order. • Accept your child for who she is and encourage her to celebrate her own unique qualities. Remind her how boring the world would be if we all looked and acted the same. (Note: If body image seems to be a particular struggle for your child, be sure to check out the body image material in Chapter 13. You’ll find all kinds of practical tips on promoting a healthy body image.) • Keep your expectations for your child realistic. It’s one thing to celebrate your child’s achievements, but don’t 78 The Mother of All Parenting Booksmake your child feel pressured to perform to a level that is impossible to achieve—something that can be very detrimental to a child’s feelings of self-worth. • Encourage your child to set realistic standards for herself, too. The closer the match between what sociologists refer to as her “perceived self” (the way she sees herself right now) and her “ideal self” (the way she would ideally like to be), the higher her self-esteem will be. Obviously, setting the bar too high for herself may mean setting herself up for disappointment. • Make your love unconditional. Let your kid know that you love her no matter what. When you need to discipline your child, make sure you do so in a way that says, “I may not like the way you are acting, but I sure love you.” (You’ll find tips on pulling off this particular bit of parenting sleight of hand in chapters 3 and 4.) • Encourage your child to try something new. When she succeeds, she’ll experience the self-esteem burst that goes along with achieving something for the very first time. Resist the temptation to jump in too soon if she starts becoming frustrated; otherwise, you’ll rob her of much of the sense of accomplishment that goes along with mastering a new skill. • Give your child the freedom to make choices. Increase the number of choices she’s able to make as she demonstrates she’s able to make good choices. • Declare your home a putdown-free zone. Don’t allow family members to engage in name-calling or any other sort of putdown behavior. • Help your child rethink any negative ideas she may have developed about herself. For example, if she’s concluded that she’s a bad student just because she struggles with Kid Under Construction 79math, or that she’s no good at sports just because hockey doesn’t happen to be her forte, remind her that she is always at the top of her class in English and that she’s got a natural talent when it comes to shooting hoops. • Be on the lookout for the warning signs that your child could be suffering from a self-esteem problem. Although most kids will exhibit some of these signs on occasion, you may have cause for concern if your child exhibits a lot of the following behaviors on an ongoing basis: • an unwillingness to try new things for fear of leaving herself open to failure • difficulty accepting either praise or criticism • extreme sensitivity to other people’s opinions • quitting a game or abandoning a task at the first sign of frustration • cheating in sports in order to improve her performance • acting controlling and bossy or silly and babylike as a means of hiding her feelings of inadequacy, frustration, or powerlessness • making excuses or blaming other people for her failure to achieve, or downplaying the significance of those failures • losing interest in activities that have previously been a source of enjoyment • a decline in academic performance • spending less time socializing with friends • moodiness (sadness, crying, anger, or frustration) • consistently making negative comments about herself. 80 The Mother of All Parenting Books• Encourage self-praise. Teach your child to acknowledge her own achievements so that she will ultimately be able to assume full responsibility for her own self-esteem maintenance program.