How to Raise Children With Healthy Self-Esteem

Interview with Dr. Colleen Cira:

Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, and activist. She has been published numerously offering practical advice and tips to those seeking self-help.

Talking Points from Dr. Cira on
Raising Kids With Healthy Self-Esteem:

I’ve worked with hundreds of people struggling with childhoods that they need to recover from and therefore, low self-esteem.  I am one of these folks as well so I have a unique perspective, and a lot to say, about this particular issue. Break the cycle of low self-esteem with these constructive strategies.

How do we raise kids with healthy self-esteem? 

  • Attunement and Attachment. This is a very simple explanation, but it’s everything. 
  • When you are ATTUNED to your children . . . you pay attention to how they are feeling, what they need and you respond as soon as you possibly can.

    • When they are babies, you figure out what their different cries mean and you respond to their needs as soon as you possibly can. You don’t let them sit alone in their distress.
    • As they get older you allow them to be challenged and make mistakes while providing support and reassurance from varying levels of distance.  
    • You talk to them about their feelings and are genuinely curious about them. You sit with them in their distress, not ignore it or try to make their crying or anger stop.  
    • You label feelings with words and help them make sense of big emotions. 
    • You notice when they seem off and invite them to talk about it.  
    • You let them explore, but you also make sure that you’re a safe space for them to come back to when they’re scared or make mistakes. 
    • You are genuinely interested in their external lives (activities, friends, school, etc.) AND internal lives (feelings, thoughts, dreams, fears, etc).
    • You pay attention (attunement) to their interests and give them opportunities to develop competencies in activities and hobbies that bring them joy.
  • ATTACHMENT is the result of attunement to your children, especially in their early years, but always.

Is it possible for kids have too much self-esteem?

  • The short answer is no. True esteem is simply loving yourself—not to the detriment of anyone, not thinking you’re better than anyone else . . .  but simply knowing that you have worth as a human being. How could that possibly be bad, right?
  • Arrogance and/or entitlement are entirely different than esteem.  
    • Arrogance can result from having parents who constantly criticize you.
    • Entitlement can result from parents who give you everything without making you earn anything and/or save you from all of your mistakes so that you never have to experience natural consequences.  
    • As parents, let’s try to not do either of these things on the regular 😉 

Why is it so hard to develop self-esteem in adulthood?

  • Because it’s like trying to build a house on a broken foundation: the groundwork isn’t there. That sounds dark, and it is, but it is not hopeless.  
  • People can develop relationships with friends and loved ones that are more attuned and attached than their early relationships. And people can engage in activities and pursuits that they love and are good at without needing anyone’s approval or validation.  
  • And when people go on to develop healthier, more secure relationships and engage in passionate pursuits that they develop a competence and confidence around, self-esteem can be built, even as adults.

How families can break the cycle of low self-esteem?

  • Change how you relate to your kids.
    • Do you ask them about their day, but don’t ask them about if anything made them happy? Sad?  Scared? Angry? Start incorporating that.
    • Do you allow only a couple of emotions (happy and grateful), but tend to discourage some of the harder ones (anger, sadness, frustration, etc)? Make it a deliberate effort to sit with your child in those emotions too.
    • Do you encourage and support certain activities (like baseball for your son), but talk less about other activities that they are interested in that you don’t particularly love (like dancing for your son)?  Get curious and supportive about ALL of your child’s interests, whether you get it or not.
    • When they’re upset and talking to you, do you immediately offer advice, but struggle if they just want you to listen or give them a hug. Challenge yourself to sit WITH them in their distress as opposed to just trying to fix it or make it go away.

BOTTOM LINE: when your kids get the message over and over and over again that every single part of them, especially the parts of them that you don’t understand or appreciate or even really approve of, are LOVED and ACCEPTED EXACTLY AS THEY ARE, they grow up with self-esteem. And this gives them wings. 🙂


Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen D. Cira, Psy.D. received both her Masters and Doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and has been practicing in the field since 2001. Dr. Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC a boutique group practice with locations in Chicago and Oak Park that specializes in Women’s Issues/Health and Trauma. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

Jo Allison
PR Managing Editor
Success In Media, Inc.

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