Parents need to be generous with their praise each time their child does something well and try to avoid negative criticism of faults and failures, especially in front of others.
Even something meant as a joke can be translated into a criticism or put down by a sensitive child. These can be the beginning of a negative self-image that slowly grows over time.
Bobbi DePorter, an expert in accelerated learning, wrote:
In 1982, Jack Canfield, an expert on self-esteem, reported the results of a study in which one hundred children were assigned to a researcher for a day. The job of the researcher was to record how many negative and positive comments the child received throughout the course of the day.
Canfield's findings were that on average, each child received 460 negative or critical comments, and only 75 positive or supportive comments.
That's over six times more negative than positive strokes!
DePorter points out how deadly this negative feedback is, and poses the question: "What would happen if children received all positive or supportive comments?"
The 'Gradual' approach
Most humans and animals have a survival instinct that allows them to recognise danger in time to avoid it.
An exception is the frog. If a frog is put into a shallow pot of warm water, under which the heat is increased only gradually, the frog's body temperature will remain approximately the same as the water. Although the frog could easily hop out and escape, it does not recognise the danger and eventually, the inevitable will happen.
The destruction of a child's self-esteem may take place gradually, over a number of years, while he or she withdraws more and more into depression. When a parent finally realises there is a problem, they may try to find an 'instant' solution.
That is unlikely to happen, however it is not too late to start repairing the damage.
The main thing to remember is to be genuine in your praise. Children can usually spot phony praise a mile off. Many parents are caught up in the struggle to earn pay the mortgage and keep at least a little ahead of the bills and may suffer a certain amount of stress themselves. Ironically, many times they are working to provide their children with a good standard of living and be able to pay for all the 'extras' that they believe will make everyone happier.
A good start would be to talk quietly to the child and apologise for not being more attentive. Learn to be more aware of your child's emotional needs by being willing to listen. This means going somewhere separate from other people and distractions like television or telephone. Go for a walk, go fishing or even a drive. Some young people find it easier to talk in a car where the parent is a 'captive audience', and they don't have to make eye contact.
Another suggestion is to spend time in a bedroom or office and make it known that you are available to anyone who wants to discuss anything.
Plan fun things to do as a family. Impromptu games of cricket, soccer or baseball can be fun, call all their friends or extended family together for a picnic or barbeque.
Encourage them in doing what they are good at. Even small successes can gradually add up to a better, more positive mental attitude.
If your child is having a problem discussing things with you, encourage him or her to seek out another adult in the family, a school counsellor, teacher or minister.
If your child misinterprets jokes and friendly teasing, telegraph them with a wink, a nudge, or some other pre-arranged signal such as saying "Knock knock!" In time they will relax and be able to join in.
Sometimes, enrolling in a martial arts class can help a pre-teen or teenager to develop self-confidence and a better self-esteem.
Most of all, be patient, and tell them you love them. If it embarrasses them to hear the words straight out, every time you buy them a small treat (an ice cream, candy bar etc, take them to a movie or hire one) tell them that you did it because they are such a neat kid and you love them.