If you are a grandparent or other individual raising your relative’s child, you are playing an important role in that child’s life. Children come to be cared for by relatives for situations we may wish the child had never been exposed to, and by the time they come to their grandparents or other relatives, they may feel they have little value or importance. Often, children who have been neglected, abused treated poorly, ignored or exposed to traumatic situations form the self-belief early on that they do not matter or their needs are not important. This creates a foundation of poor self-esteem that will affect them in many areas of their life. As the stable adult and their caretaker, there are ways to understand the child’s need for self-esteem and work to help them build it up.
The first thing to know is that children who suffer from low self-esteem do not trust the adults in their life. Based on their own experience, they have learned that those who should of protected them instead made their worlds very unstable or even dangerous. Often, these children are unable to relax and trust their relative or grandparent. Building trust requires time and patience. As the caregiver, know that it is your behavior that will build trust, not just your words. Trust is basic to feeling secure and valuable and is fundamental to building positive self-esteem.
Here are some ways to build trust and promote positive self-esteem:
- Be predictable and consistent. Children may feel they have to test you time after time before they believe you.
- Create boundaries and rules and follow through when rules are broken. When a child breaks a rule, it will be easy to say, “You shoved your brother. I understand you are frustrated, but shoving is not allowed because I am concerned you might hurt your brother. You know that when you break the rules you get a 5-minute time out. When you are done we can talk about other ways to deal with your anger when you feel frustrated.” When the child is done with the consequence, talk to them about their feelings. Make it safe to have feelings, but to show them other ways to regulate. The child may not like the rules, but it will provide security knowing they are there and the consequences.
- Give specific compliments tied to the child’s behavior. Find something daily to praise them on. For example, if they hung up their towel after their shower, say, “I really appreciate how you cleaned up your bathroom after using it. It shows you are a responsible person. Thank you.”
- Show you are proud of the child. Hang pictures, school work, drawings up publicly.
- Show your love. Hug, read, play and tell the child how much you love them and how important they are. Make art with the child, play games, listen to music, play at the park. Have a regular reading time, hug the child frequently. Give affection often and without warning. Praise the child regularly in response to their positive behavior.
- Watch your words and use mistakes as learning opportunities. Instead of criticizing or ridiculing to teach a lesson, stick with the facts to point out a problem and offer solutions. If the child spills something, don’t yell out of your own frustration. Instead, offer, “I think you hit the glass when you reached across the table, please get a damp cloth and lets clean this up.”
- Listen to the child. Ask them questions, even if you don’t understand entirely what they are trying to express. Talk to them about their interests.
- Model the behavior you want to see. If you have rules against hitting and screaming, do not use spanking as a punishment. Do not yell at the child, at your spouse. Children will pick up on your behavior and learn from it. This goes back to consistency.
It is important to focus on the child’s strengths rather than their faults. When you get frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed, seek support for yourself. Find a support group, talk to a therapist, and take a break with some friends. Remember the very important work you are doing: creating a safe, predictable, and loving place for the child. It is on that foundation that you are helping to build positive self-esteem and restore what may have been taken from the child.
What other tips do you have for building self-esteem in children? Let us know in the comments.