Helping a young daughter build healthy self-esteem is an essential task for any parent. Beginning this process early is a key to success. Even very young children are aware that they have a specific identity, and they are keenly aware of how they are valued by others. Teaching your child to value herself in a positive and healthy way will help her enormously in her ability to successfully face the challenges of life.
Spend time with your daughter to help her know that you love and value her. This is instrumental in helping her learn to love and value herself. Taking time out of your busy schedule to focus on just her will communicate your love much more effectively than words alone will ever do. Use ordinary activities like bath time, meal time or play time to listen to your daughter's thoughts and concerns and help her see that she is worth the love and attention you give to her.
Love your daughter unconditionally. Help her see and understand that you accept her as a person, even when you don’t approve of her behavior. It is important for her to realize her inherent worth as a person, even if she sometimes makes mistakes. Whether it’s spilling something, breaking a special item or playing with something she’s not supposed to, help your daughter know that you love her despite her actions, and that she can make better choices in the future.
Build your daughter’s competencies. Feeling competent is another major factor in a child’s self-esteem. When a child can accomplish things on her own and solve some of her own problems, she develops a sense of power and control over her life. This empowerment makes a significant contribution to her self-esteem.
Seek out opportunities to let her know she is capable. Start with things she can do by herself -- clean up her toys, choose an outfit, pack snacks for an outing -- and continue to build her independent skills. This will start her on a path of accomplishment and help minimize feelings of helplessness.
Praise your child. Effective praise is honest, specific and sincere. This kind of praise helps your child learn some of her skills and strengths. She is able to find specific ways in which she can make a contribution, and she can learn that her positive traits are valued by others. You can say, “That was so nice of you to share your toys. I know your friends appreciated that,” or “Thank you for putting the books away. It really helps me when you do that.”
Focus on effort, rather than results. Praise your child for her effort and hard work. This will help her understand that while she can control her effort, she can’t always control the results, and that’s okay. Teaching your child to do her best and accept the results will help her to base her self-esteem on things she can control, rather than things she can’t. If she is learning to count, you can say, “I love how hard you are working to learn your numbers. I hope you keep practicing.”
Be genuine and reasonable with your praise. An over-inflated self image is also unhealthy for your daughter. Help your child feel loved and valued without teaching her that she is better than others. Help her value the positive attributes of those around her, as well as herself.
Recognize the tremendous influence that you have on your child’s self-esteem as you discuss or show the way you feel about yourself. Your daughter will learn volumes about how she should value and treat herself by watching how you value and treat yourself. It is not enough to praise your daughter and make her feel worthwhile, while criticizing yourself. This example may subtly cause her to focus on others’ strengths while dwelling on her weaknesses.
Model the self-esteem that you want your young daughter to possess. Talk positively about yourself, accept and love who you are, and your daughter will want to do the same.