Q:

My child generally feels good about herself. However, at times she is down in the dumps when she doesn't do well on a test or her friends ignore her. How should I respond to these changes in disposition? Do they hurt her self-esteem? -- Wondering

A:

Everyone would like for their children to have high self-esteem -- the feeling that comes from feeling capable and valued by others. In the past, it was thought that it was bad for children to suffer low self-esteem and feel bad about themselves. Now it is considered realistic for children to feel bad temporarily depending on feedback they get from friends and failure to perform well.

While it is considered normal for children to have fluctuations in their level of self-esteem, it is definitely not a good situation if children consistently have feelings of low self-esteem. These children have no confidence in their ability to do well in school or handle new challenges and often speak negatively about themselves.

Parents can play a large role in building their children's self-esteem. What they say to their children really matters. Their number one rule should be not to go overboard in praising their children. If they do, children are likely to expect to do well in everything and feel deflated and defeated when they don't. A good approach is to praise children for their efforts rather than their accomplishments.

Part of building children's self-esteem lies in giving children the opportunity to solve their own problems, to take healthy risks and to let them make mistakes. Accomplishments make children feel good about themselves, so does knowing their strengths and weaknesses. Parents also build self-esteem in their children by carefully listening to what the children say. That way the children know that their feelings and opinions matter.

Above all else, the most important thing that parents can do to build self-esteem is give their children a feeling of being loved and valued and accepted for the individuals they are.