Building Young Children's Social Skills

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem is how one perceives oneself, your sense of self-worth or personal value. People with a high, healthy self-esteem tend to go through life with a positive attitude and believe they can accomplish their goals.

People with low self-esteem tend to feel like they do not value themselves and are less capable of navigating daily life situations. Their negative attitudes can prevent them from being successful at attaining their goals.

Why Promoting Young Children’s Self-Esteem Is Important

Children learn and thrive when their lives are immersed in positive and nurturing relationships. Infants are communicating needs when they cry or coo, since they are unable to use words. A dance begins when the adults learn to interpret what the communications mean, and quickly can meet each identified need.

By the time children are toddlers, their sense of self is already developing based on their daily experiences. Some of the many factors that influence how they feel about themselves are:

  • Adult expectations: are these age appropriate or do the adults expect the children to automatically know what is right or wrong without being taught using positive guidance?
  • Adult responses: are the adults consistent and intentional in how they respond to children’s actions, or just reactive based on what a child is doing at a given moment?
  • Children are observers. Adults are role models. Are the adults behaving the way that they want the children to imitate their behavior? (Examples: hugging, helping each other? or cursing, smoking, fighting?)

Toys That Promote Positive Self-esteem

Toys, games and activities that are open-ended and allow children to be creative provide opportunities for everyone to have successful outcomes. And having successful experiences make all of us feel good about ourselves!

Some examples of open-ended toys:

This musical toy includes an age-range of 18 months to 5 years, but even adults will enjoy playing tunes on it. Children can explore making musical tones or even songs as they grow older. Or, it can serve as a positive guidance tool where they can just bang on the keyboard when they are upset and use it to hit some thing rather than someone.

This toy is a workbench for young children that enhances their eye-hand coordination and promotes their positive self-esteem as they successfully hammer the objects into the slots. Children can also be re-directed to using this toy if they are angry and need to take it appropriately thing to hit until they can regain their self-control.

In addition to encouraging brain development and critical thinking skills, this toy makes it easy for children to successfully build creative structures of all sizes.

This Brain Child Award-winning construction set includes beautiful clear magnetic 3D tiles. Families will enjoy creating “masterpieces” together.

Books That Promote Positive Self-esteem

Reading children stories about characters who have successfully navigated challenging situations provides them with a context for understanding that a positive attitude, and using their thinking skills, can help them solve problems that may seem overwhelming at first.

This classic story is about a little engine that never gives up and feels so happy when it successfully reaches its goal.

The book starts out with “poor Charlie”. But Charlie the shepherd has a high sense of self-esteem and independence and uses his knowledge of all the steps he needs to take, starting with shearing his sheep, to make a new one.

In this story a little mouse is saved by a whale. He cannot imagine what he could ever do to repay the whale for his kindness since he is so small. But a surprise opportunity arises and you and your children will enjoy the clever solution and sweet ending to this book.

Princess Elizabeth has no problem using her high self-esteem and critical thinking skills to rescue her Prince Ronald from a dragon. And there is a surprise ending that may shake up the household!

Children love to read books about themselves, so one easy way to promote their positive self-esteem is to make books about something they have done well. With today’s technology you can take pictures of your children fearlessly going down a high slide at the park, or balancing on one foot anywhere they do it and make a book about it.

Printing the picture on a piece of paper, writing down the child’s dictation about it and displaying it on a wall or refrigerator helps children remember their successes, especially at times they may be doubting themselves.

Free Activity and Strategy Ideas

1.  During bath time, provide children with plastic containers of different sizes and other props such as small plastic toys, a baster, colander or strainer. Very young children will enjoy pouring the water from one container to another over and over again. As they get older they will begin to recognize which containers are larger and hold more, etc. There is no one way or correct way for them to explore water with props, so they can just feel relaxed making their discoveries.

2.  Younger children enjoy painting on outdoor walls or plastic furniture with water. Recyclable containers work well to use for the water. Old paint brushes or sponges that have been cleaned and disinfected are great for youngsters to use for creating designs or cleaning dust and dirt from washable, unbreakable objects.

3.  While at a park, acknowledge children for their efforts, as well as for what they already have accomplished.

“Jose, you went higher on the climbing steps than you have before. You’re so close to making it to the top!”

“Sarah, you only needed 3 pushes on the swing before you started to pump your legs to keep it going – that’s the first time I’ve seen you do that!”

Also take every opportunity to genuinely acknowledge them for all of their efforts and successes. Be specific about what it is you’ve observed. Saying “good job” to everything does not give them the information they need to let them know they did well, and what to continue to try to do.

And especially important, remember that you are a role model. Young children will imitate everything that you do. Children learn what they live, and you may be surprised what family situations they may innocently share with others.

So be aware of your body language, your habits and how you act toward others. Your own self-esteem may be reflected in your children’s self-esteem.

Most children HEAR what you say

Some children DO what you say

But all children DO WHAT YOU DO

Children Learn What They Live
by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Karen is an Early Childhood Specialist with more than 40 years of experience in teaching, consulting, and curriculum development for young children.

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