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KIDS AND SELF-ESTEEM None of us were born with low self-worth or low self-esteem. It developed through the years by what we were told and how we were made to feel by the people in our lives. Whether you have children or not, you can make a difference in a child's view of themselves and stop the cycle of low self-esteem problems. The obvious first step toward fostering a good self-image in children is to provide them with unconditional love and caring. Don't criticize or berate them.

Always focus on the positives and provide encouragement in everything they do. More specifically, however, there are many, many other things you can do. First, you should model good self-esteem. Express through your actions and words that you respect yourself.

Children are wonderful at imitating what they see and hear. Be a good role model. Create positive routines. Young children need routines to help them to feel secure and competent. Try to set a good schedule for bedtime, rest/naps, meals, etc.

Try to keep exceptions to the routine to a minimum and explain any necessary changes if/when they occur. Allow many opportunities for children to contribute to the family. Give the child a job/chore that only he/she does for the family. Even a small job can have a positive lasting impact on a child's self esteem. Talk about the world in positive terms.

Even though there is negativity in the world, don't dwell on it with a child. Be sure to point out the many positive things in the world to children. Give them the gift of your time. Remember quality is more important than quantity. Even if you spend just 30 minutes with a child one on one -- playing games, taking walks, having long bedtime chats, or just snuggling in front of the TV, spending time with a child shows them that you value their company.

Give them choices. By giving a child choices between a reasonable set of options that are already predetermined, you will make them feel empowered. But be cautious here. Too much control sends the message that your children can't adequately handle their lives. Too little control sends the message you don't care, so you must strike a balance between these two extremes and give them more freedom as they grow older. Acknowledge and listen to their thoughts and emotions since they are so much a part of who they are.

Listening to you offspring with empathy says you care about what they think and feel. Plus it will create an atmosphere in which they will be more willing to listen to you. You don't always have to agree with your kids when you listen to them, nor let them do whatever they want. You can have a different view on a situation and still understand their perspective. And you may still have to discipline them even if you better understand why they misbehaved. You should structure situations so your children experience more success than failure.

Don't expect standards of performance which they cannot achieve. You want them to grow up with far more praise than criticism, more accomplishments than failures. Let your children know they are lovable and capable.

Again, this is a self-evident principle. You should give your children daily expressions of affection - hugs, kisses, words of love, praise and appreciation. Think of them as cups of love which you want to fill with as much caring as you can. Provide security for them. Children need to feel secure.

Few feel secure when there are conflicts occurring around them. Few can relax inwardly when others around them are shouting, accusing, criticizing and hating each other. To a small child, tension between parents, or between parents and the child or other children, constitute a deep chasm of insecurity. Plus, they may end up blaming themselves for the conflicts around them. Avoid arguing around them as much as possible. If they do see conflict, make sure they also see resolution of the conflict.

Not everything in life is peaches and cream and problems do arise. People will argue ? it's a fact of life. The important part here is that the child sees a peaceful resolution in the end.

This will teach them problem solving skills and help them realize that even though there is conflict in the world, there is also a way to resolve it in ways that everyone benefits from. Our children need to know that we accept and love them regardless of what they may do, but also that certain forms of behaviour are not acceptable to us. We should, however, investigate for ourselves why this behaviour is not acceptable. Is it because it will be potentially harmful to the child, to someone else, or to us? Or is it simply because we are programmed that it should not be done? Or does the behaviour conflict with our expectations based on our personal needs and dreams for the child? Or are we afraid of what the others will think about our child and subsequently about us? We must be very clear about why we are rejecting a certain behaviour.

Our rejection can come out of a place of real love and concern for the child, if, in fact, we are not simply protecting our own interests. As long as a certain behaviour does no real harm to anyone, it is best to allow the child to pursue it. Something within them, some need is guiding them to explore that kind of activity. They have something to learn through doing that.

This does not mean that there are not moments where control or even natural or logical consequences may be necessary. But we need to be sure that the reasons are valid and have to do with real issues of safety or morality and not because we are disappointed with their grades or selection of hobbies, interests or friends. In order to love our children unconditionally, we will need to start loving ourselves unconditionally. We will have to let go of all the prerequisites we have put on our own self-love.

We will need to love ourselves even though we are not perfect, even though we make mistakes, even when others do not love and accept us. The more we free our self-love from the various prerequisites, the more our love for our children and others will become unconditional. Finally, we must provide positive reinforcement for our children. Everyone likes a pat on the back, recognition, strokes, praise or affirmation of his or her ability, goodness and worthiness.

Our children have not yet formed images of themselves and need these positive inputs even more than adults. Children are not sure if they are able or not. They are small in such a large world. They are learning and thus making many mistakes as they try to learn how to do things correctly. In our attempt to help our children we often tend to point out their mistakes more frequently than their successes.

The mistakes are what are more obvious and thus we feel the need to point them out. The successes are taken for granted. We over-emphasize what our children do wrong.

This undermines their sense of ability, and they start to doubt whether they can really succeed. Thus they become preoccupied, worrying about whether they will be able to do it, and whether they will be criticized. Thus little energy is left for focusing on what they are actually doing so that they can do it correctly and succeed. Then, if our children's performance suffers, we become even more critical.

This creates a vicious circle in which our children's sense of ability, success and worthiness is completely undermined. So, the easy thing to say is just "Don't do this". If you find yourself overly criticizing a child or yelling berating comments at them, take a moment, count to 10 and think of a healthier way to address the situation.

They will be better for it ? and so will you! What about that huge area that is especially difficult to deal with? It's bound to happen, but don't let it swallow you! Criticism can be given and accepted graciously without affecting your self-esteem.

Pierre du Plessis (MBL, 1982, UNISA) is a business consultant, co-owner of Leaders Circle, author of several e-books and training manuals, previous Corporate Logistics and Procurement Manager, ex-army infantry soldier as Officer in Charge of Battalion Operations and nowadays business owner of several successful offline business operations. Get more details here about careers at the Career Builders Club.

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