In a society that teaches us to be constantly dissatisfied with ourselves, it’s difficult to have good self-esteem. The media tells us we need to do more, rest less, be more attractive, and push ourselves harder and further no matter what. It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.
Adoptees may have an even more difficult time developing good self-esteem than other children. As an adoptive parent, there are many things you can do to help raise your adoptee’s self-esteem.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is one’s own subjective perception of his or her worth or value. It is how much you like and appreciate yourself regardless of circumstances. Several factors help determine your self-esteem, including your identity, feelings of security, sense of belonging, self-confidence, and feelings of competence.
An adoptee may have a more challenging time forming a good sense of self-esteem than a non-adopted child. This is because one’s sense of identity has a lot to do with knowing one’s past and birth family. While open adoptions are much more common today than they were in the past, some adoptees still do not know their birth parents or their histories, which makes forming a sense of identity much more difficult.
Additionally, even adoptees who know their birth families and histories undoubtedly struggle with feelings of unworthiness. No matter how often you tell your adopted child how much you love him or her, how valuable he or she is, and how blessed you feel to have him or her as your child, your child will likely struggle with doubts and concerns about his or her worthiness. It is common for an adoptee to fear that he or she wasn’t good enough for his or her birth parents and that is why he or she was placed for adoption. It is also common for adopted children to fear that they will be “given away” by their adoptive parents if they do not measure up.
How Self-Esteem Impacts One’s Life
Self-esteem is important because it greatly impacts decision-making, relationships, and emotional health and well-being. People with healthy self-esteem tend to have healthy relationships with others, understand their needs and can express them, have realistic expectations of themselves, can make their own decisions, know what their values are and live accordingly, and act assertively without feeling guilty about it.
People with low self-esteem tend to talk negatively about themselves, lack confidence in themselves and their abilities, struggle to ask for what they need, doubt themselves and their decisions, and fear failing. People pleasing, feelings of hopelessness, and struggling to create and enforce healthy boundaries are other signs of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem could lead to mental health issues such as eating disorders, substance use, anxiety, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder.
How to Foster Good Self-Esteem
Self-esteem develops over time. Every child is different. Incorporate several strategies into your plan to build your child’s self-esteem.
Help Your Child Learn
Each time your child learns how to do something new, his or her self-esteem has a chance to grow. Kids of every age can learn how to do new things. As a baby, your child can learn how to begin to feed himself or herself, hold a bottle, and learn how to crawl. As they grow, children can learn how to walk, ride a bike, play games, make friends, read, write, and do household chores. As your child learns how to do each new thing, his or her sense of mastery and self-confidence increases.
Remember to be patient with your child as you help him or her learn new things. Some children learn faster than others. Provide encouragement and praise during the learning process.
Talk About Adoption Positively
Talk about adoption often in your home. Start to tell your child his or her adoption story from the start. You may want to simplify the story or leave out difficult details until your child gets older and can understand them, but you can begin to tell your child his or her story right away.
Tell your child how loved he or she is. Emphasize that your child’s birth mother placed him or her for adoption out of love. There were likely some parts of the adoption process that were difficult for you as adoptive parents, but focus on the positive aspects of adoption in front of your child. Never talk negatively about adoption or your child’s birth parents in front of him or her. Make adoption something your child can be proud of. If you have an open adoption, you can emphasize the fact that your child has two families who love and care about him or her.
Giving your child praise is important, but you don’t want to overpraise. When you praise your child when he or she knows they haven’t done something well, your words will feel fake. For instance, instead of telling your child he or she played a good game when he or she didn’t, say something like, “I know that wasn’t your best game, but I’m proud of you for sticking with it. You’ll do better next time. We all have off days.”
Don’t praise your child based on results alone. Instead, praise your child for effort, progress, and attitude. For example, if your child struggles with math and does better on a test, tell him or her that you are proud of him or her for working so hard. Recognize that your child is improving and making progress. When you recognize a child’s effort and the progress he or she is making, no matter how small, your child will feel good, be motivated to continue to work hard, and be more likely to succeed.
Avoid overpraising your child. Don’t offer praise for every little thing he or she does. Instead, give your child genuine praise when he or she does a job well done. Avoid focusing on being the best or winning. Instead, focus on your child’s effort, hard work, and diligence.
Focus on Strengths
Your child won’t be good at everything. Rather than focusing on your child’s weaknesses, focus on his or her strengths. What does your child enjoy doing? What is he or she good at? If your child loves to play basketball, find a team for him or her to join. If your child loves to dance, enroll him or her in dance classes. If your child sings well, he or she might be interested in taking voice lessons. Encourage your child to do whatever he or she enjoys.
Mistakes are Learning Opportunities
Don’t criticize your child for making mistakes. Instead, use mistakes as a teaching tool. Have a discussion with your child about how he or she could do something differently the next time. Let your child try to find a solution for preventing the mistake he or she made in the future. Offer gentle guidance and suggestions. Let your child know that everyone makes mistakes but you can learn from them.
Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities. Have your child help you with a few household chores. Ask your child to set the table for dinner. Have your child help you prepare dinner. Get your child to feed your cat or dog. Giving your child age-appropriate responsibilities or asking for their help around the house lets your child know that he or she is an important part of the family.
Show Interest in What Your Child Enjoys
Does your child really like airplanes? Dinosaurs? Magic tricks? Take your child to the local library and check out books on the subject. Spend time reading with him or her and learning about the subject at home. Does your school-aged child love reptiles? If the circumstances are right, maybe you could get a pet bearded dragon or lizard. You and your child can bond over taking care of the pet.
Make an effort to do things with your child that he or she enjoys, whether that’s playing outside, watching a favorite movie, reading with him or her, going to the children’s museum, visiting the zoo, cooking together, going swimming, playing basketball, dancing, listening to music, or playing board games. When you make an effort to show interest in the things that interest your child, he or she learns that you value him or her.
Allow Your Child to Make Choices
Allowing your child to make choices helps build his or her confidence and form his or her sense of self. As a toddler, you can let your child choose their own outfit for the day from a few options you’ve pre-selected. You can allow your child to choose what he or she wants for breakfast. As your child grows up, give your child more choices. Allow your child to choose books from the library to read, which sport to play, what toys he or she wants to play with, how to decorate his or her bedroom, and so forth.
Encourage Your Child to Try New Things
It’s easy to focus on what your child already excels at. Encourage your child to try new things. Your child might learn new skills. Trying new things helps your child learn that he or she can handle new challenges.
Allow Your Child to Fail
This might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s important for children to fall short sometimes. Nobody wins or reaches their goals all the time. Allowing your child to fall short teaches him or her how to handle challenging situations. They’ll learn that falling short isn’t the end of the world, and it may also motivate your child to try harder the next time.
Help Your Child Set Goals
Help your child set realistic, attainable goals. You don’t want the goals you help your child set to be too easy or too tough. For instance, you wouldn’t want to set a goal for your child to make 10 goals in his or her first season on the soccer team. A more realistic goal might be for your child to score a couple of goals in his or her first season. If your child has a lofty goal, help him or her break it down into simpler, more attainable goals along the way.
Allow your child to express his or her feelings, thoughts, and opinions. Listen to your child when he or she is sharing something with you. Ask your child questions about his or her day, how he or she is feeling, and what he or she thinks about various situations.
When your child loses a game, acknowledge that it is okay for him or her to be disappointed. Validating your child’s feelings is important. At the same time, recognize your child’s effort. For instance, after losing a game, you could say something like, “I know you are disappointed because your team lost the game today. It is natural to feel a little down when we do not win. Remember that you did your best, and I am proud of you for going out there and giving it a go.”
Model Self-Love and Self-Acceptance
Kids learn a lot from watching their parents. Teach your child how to have healthy self-esteem by modeling it for him or her. Celebrate your successes. Admit when you’ve made a mistake, but don’t dwell on it. Instead, talk to your child about what you learned from the mistake. Try new things, and talk to your child about what you learned or experienced.
Self-esteem is important to many aspects of our lives. Having healthy self-esteem helps us form healthy relationships, express ourselves assertively, make confident decisions, and cope with difficult situations. Because one’s self-confidence is influenced by many factors and takes a long time to develop, it’s essential that you begin to build your child’s self-esteem as soon as you bring him or her home. Giving your child genuine praise, taking an interest in what he or she enjoys, modeling self-love and acceptance, and encouraging self-expression are all good ways to build your child’s self-esteem.