Self-esteem, self-image–how does a child see herself? Does she feel good about herself? Does she act responsibly? Does she value her worth? To recognize the importance of feeling good about yourself, look at the number of adolescents who engage in behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, suffer from depression or thoughts of suicide because they lack the inner peace and balance that come with good mental/emotional health.
As caregivers, should it be your responsibility to help children develop positive feelings of self-worth? Your day already is full of teaching and caring for children. There may not seem to be enough time to add another subject into your curriculum. Maybe self-esteem is something the children should get from home . . .
Unfortunately, it has been estimated that most children will average eight negative events (such as called degrading names or berated for their actions) for every positive one (being praised or complimented) while at home. Sometime parents are too quick to judge the wrong things their child does and forget that the child is a person who also likes to hear (and NEEDS to hear) kind words and praise. As a caregiver, you are with the child for several hours each day and not only can help the child develop confidence and self-esteem, but also help parents learn new ways to encourage their child.
Encouraging positive self-image throughout the childcare day can take place in many ways. Children react to each event they encounter during the day and the actions of the adults in their environment may determine whether this interaction has a positive or negative impact on them. You are a role model and children watch your every action and interaction with other children, co-workers, and parents. Children may learn how to scowl and yell if someone makes a mistake; or, they can learn to encourage others and be respectful of all people. Positive role modeling can help children learn positive behaviors and make a positive impact on their mental/emotional health.
Ask yourself these questions to see if you include self-esteem building in your daily activities:
- Do you acknowledge positive behavior with children in your care?
- Do you include activities that help children feel good about themselves and their actions?
- Do you model respect in the way you treat children and adults?
When working with children, strive to help them feel that they are a part of the group and related in important ways to other people, places, and things. Encourage children to play in groups and to accept and respect all members in the group. This is especially important when there are children from various ethnic groups or who have special needs (physical, mental, or behavioral disabilities) in your care. Modeling is extremely important in showing children to accept and care about all children. This means treating everyone with the same attention and respect.
Responsibilities & Praise
Young children can be given age-appropriate responsibilities and understand that their contribution is important in daily activities. Help children organize their environment so they can accomplish their tasks. This sense of accomplishment encourages confidence. Help children believe that they can do anything they set out to do! This also can help to create in them a sense of ownership and pride in what they have or have created.
Give each child one-on-one time each day, and acknowledge each child throughout the day with eye contact with a warm smile, a few simple words, hugs, etc. Show them that they are important to you and others, and convince each child that he or she is special. Teach all children to respect themselves. Children do not always hear positive things about themselves at home so they sometimes are not comfortable with whom they are. You can help build their self-esteem and confidence and encourage them to pass that along to others.
Create in children a desire for learning. Encourage them to be involved in a diversity of activities to cultivate many interests. This may help the children–and you–discover what they are capable of doing. Give children lots of opportunities to be creative in safe and imaginative ways. Help them find and express those sometimes hidden talents. Incorporate these special interests into your curriculum to continue giving all children successful experiences.
Decisions and Discipline
Allowing children to make decisions helps them to build confidence in their ability to solve problems. Early decisions should involve only two choices. (“Do you want to play with clay or puzzles?” “Do you want to sit here or there?”) As they mature, the decisions become more complicated. (“There are four learning centers. Which one do you want to go to first?”) Give children lots of practice while they are young so that they learn that their decisions affect the consequences. With this, the child internalizes a sense of right from wrong and that choices bring consequences.
All children want and need structure and appropriate discipline in their daily lives. However, do not focus on negative behaviors that may be causing problems. Instead, redirect their energies to activities that are constructive. In doing this, children learn that it is their behaviors that are undesirable–not them! How you respond to a child’s actions can go a long way in creating positive behaviors in the future. Children will behave the way you expect them to; let them know that you expect the best from them and are willing to help them achieve it.
When children are in your care, you have the opportunity to show them positive ways of coping with everyday stress and anger. Some children need more help than others in learning to appropriately express their feelings. Some have never been given an opportunity to acquire the skills to properly handle stress or anger. They may be regularly punished for expressing feelings such as anger or frustration, which usually leads to resentment and more anger. These children need a loving environment where their emotions can be expressed in acceptable ways.
As caregivers, you set the emotional tone of your program. This, in turn, influences the perceptions children develop of themselves. Helping children to grow into healthy adults means putting into place a positive foundation when they are young. That foundation not only begins at home, but in the childcare setting. Practicing positive mental health habits should be part of every child’s day.