It is never too early to start fostering your child's sense of self.

Fostering a Sense of Self in Children

by Kimberly Dyke

A child who feels a sense of self grows up feeling like he has something to offer the world. Whether cleaning up the living room, riding in the car or playing at the park, you can grab the opportunity to build into your toddler’s self-esteem. Seeing your little man climb to the top of a mound of dirt and declare, “I am the king of the whole yard!” shows that you are heading in the right direction.

1. Encouragement

Instead of always offering your toddler generic praise like, “Good job,” for essentially everything from throwing away her napkin to sharing a toy with her brother, encourage her with specific praises. Say, “You were so kind to share your snack with your friend,” or, “That was so brave of you to sit in the dentist’s chair all by yourself.” She will not only feel good about herself as a person, but about her efforts and accomplishments.

2. Independence

Supporting your child’s independence helps foster his self-esteem as he learns and grows. Various opportunities throughout each day offer the chance to try something and succeed at it, such as climbing the stool and washing hands at the bathroom sink. Start simply and ask, “David, would you like to get the crayons out of the drawer by yourself?” or, “Can you please bring Mommy a washcloth?” Each task that he accomplishes will build his competency and excitement about being a big boy. Add new challenges when your toddler is ready, such as feeding the cat, wiping the kitchen table or putting the clean silverware away.

3. Family Identity

A child who identifies strongly with her family will also have a strong sense of self. Build into your family’s unity by supporting each others' activities, having family meals on a regular basis and visiting relatives when possible. Children love to hear stories about when Grandma was little, or when Great-Grandpa traveled to this country with only 10 dollars. Tell stories like, “Did you know that your great-aunt traveled to China on a steamboat when she was a teenager? She didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, but there was no stopping her. Sometimes you remind me of her.” A solid family identity offers security and a sense of belonging that will last a lifetime.

4. Start Early

The American Academy of Pediatrics says a child is already developing personal independence as well as his own special personality by 18 months, so it is never too early to start building up your tot’s sense of self. Children naturally want to be loved and accepted by the people in their lives, which leads them to feel trust and safety. Ask your child, “What did you think about that video we just watched? Did you like how the mommy acted toward the princess?” or, “Who do you think is the nicest boy is the class? What makes him so nice?” Respecting his opinion shows him that what he thinks has value.

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