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28 October 2010

Building self-esteem in children


We often hear parents scolding their children and calling them names in public. Many passers-by would just walk away while some would watch the commotion from a distance. No one would go to the child’s rescue.

We don’t realise that children, especially very young children, are suffering when their parents or guardians repeatedly yell and hurl abusive words at them.

In many households, parents continue to believe that children will get over this emotional hurt when they grow up, and learn something out of this discipline.
The truth is far from this. Today, we live among adults who are emotionally scarred by the threats, name-calling and neglect they experienced as children. The vicious cycle continues when they become parents as they may adopt the same parenting style with their own children.

Unfortunately, we live in a “culture of silence” and choose not to interfere when we see children get yelled at or thrown out of the house as punishment.
Once I witnessed two young children squatting outside their house. They were sobbing uncontrollably. I found out that they were locked out as punishment for disobeying their mother. I voiced out my concern for their safety and well-being. Their mother relented and let them in.

As a young child, I lived next to an elderly neighbour who was raising her six-year-old granddaughter. Living in a terrace-house, I heard her cries and screams when her grandmother was beating her. I felt helpless.

There was a mother in my children’s toddler playgroup who slapped her two-year-old daughter’s hand to stop her from reaching out for things. This was her way of telling her child that she should behave appropriately. She told me that she wanted her daughter to learn to wait for her permission.
Infants and toddlers who live in homes with domestic violence tend to be under emotional stress that affects their cognitive and sensory development. Joy Osofsky and her colleagues concurred with this in their study, published in 1999.

A new UNICEF report on Child Disciplinary Practices At Home this month reveals that three out of four of children surveyed have experienced violence in the home. Half of them suffered some form of physical punishment while three out of four were subjected to psychological aggression.

There is an urgent need to come up with a national strategy on getting data to curb the increasing violence against children. We must join forces to protect them by making every home one that is free of violence.

We need to help parents and caregivers understand that they can use positive discipline instead of physical force or verbal threats. Children do break and can get damaged when they are hurt. Even minimal physical or emotional hurt can cause the child to suffer harm.
It takes time and patience to get children to behave correctly. They need to observe and learn from the people around them. They make mistakes along the way. This is how they learn what is right and wrong. They need someone to show them how to get things right.

If we want a better and safer future, we need to make sure we know how to help our children learn the best possible way. They need to be empowered not put down. They need to be accepted not rejected.

More can be achieved if we treat our children with more compassion. It is their right to feel safe and live in a secure environment. They learn to cooperate when they have the right skills to do it.
Every parent wants his or her child to be well-mannered and capable. Hitting or scolding will not achieve this. When it gets too difficult to cope, stressed-out parents need to seek help.

When a child’s challenging behaviour provokes parents, the child is rejected by his parents. In turn, the child who feels rejected will behave worse, causing parents to react more negatively toward him.
Use positive words with your children. This way, they will behave positively and thrive. Children who feel loved tend to have high self-esteem. They cooperate with others to achieve success.  Seize every opportunity to spend time with your children without getting angry or frustrated with them. A word of encouragement can make a difference in how they view themselves.

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