How to encourage a child's self-esteem

Every parent wants their child to grow up happy and healthy and self-esteem is a big part of that. I look at my children, who have different levels of self-esteem and I wonder what influenced their self-esteem and could I do/have done anything to help them develop it? A new study (Orth, 2018) looked to pick apart the influences on a child's self-esteem and might offer me the answers I’m looking for.

The study looked specifically at early childhood environments and asked whether they influence self-esteem. It took self-esteem measure from people from age 8 to age 27, twice a year. And up to 6 years of the mothers of these kids were given assessments twice a year regarding the environment the kids were bought up in. It was found that the early childhood environment was significantly affecting later self-esteem!

It has to be said here that other studies have also found a significant genetic component, so if a child of yours has low self-esteem it could easily be down to genetics. That said, all young parents want to know how to create the best environment for their child so here are the things the study measured in the early home environment: quality the home environment (including quality of parenting, cognitive stimulation and the physical home environment), quality of the parental relationship, the fathers’ presence, the mothers depression and the families level of poverty.

All the above factors were analysed while controlling for ethnicity and gender. It turns out that the quality of the home environment was the most significant factor in a child's self-esteem as they grow! Just to remind you, that included these three, quite broad, areas:

  • quality of parenting

  • cognitive stimulation

  • the physical home environment

If you reading this article to try to strive to be the best parent you can be, then chances are you're a parent who strives for these areas to be well set up for your kids anyway. Also - I hope that your mind might be put to rest if you were unlucky enough to parent under the other conditions that were examined:

  • poor parental relationship

  • lack of father presence

  • depression of the mother

  • poverty

I always like it when factors like those above are not a big factor in a child's wellbeing, especially as mothers often can’t help them. None the less they often lead to years of worry that there has been a lasting effect. If any of them have been a worry for you. Please put it to one side in the knowledge you did your best in the circumstances.

It’s also important to remember that this is only one study and later studies might contradict it. Plus it's quite 'hetero-normative' in it's outlook. Even if some of the ‘quality of the home environment’ factors were not in your life when your child was young, they are not the be-all-and-end-all. A child can have the perfect upbringing in early life and still end up with low-self esteem due to their genetics.

For me, the take-home is that parenting is tough. Perhaps the most important, most difficult and most underpaid job you’re ever offered. If you’ve tried your best given the information you had at the time, then that is what’s important. I know I did my best with my kids and I also know I certainly didn’t do everything perfectly all the time. I firmly believe the perfect parent is a fantasy. We all muddle along the best we can. But I hope the information here will aid any young/new parents to have better information.

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