Building a positive self-image in children, according to Dr. Hanoch McCarty of the National Council for Self Esteem, is a process of restoring what they were born with.
A child's sense of identity can be compared to a magnificent shaft of wheat. "We grind it up, take all the vitamins and good stuff out, put 10 percent back in, and call it enriched."Speaking at the second annual Conference on Self-Esteem, sponsored by the Davis County Council on Infants, Children and Youth, McCarty addressed several hundred parents, educators and students at Davis High School.
A child's parenting, school experiences, peer pressure, society and job success are the five factors that most powerfully shape his sense of self-esteem, said the nationally recognized psychiatrist and social worker who got his start in New York's inner city.
In other words, self-esteem is the total of the 10,000 positive and negative messages a person receives from his parents, siblings, teachers, classmates and friends throughout his lifetime.
"At some point we believed in ourselves, and at some point, society taught us not to."
Everyone loves babies, McCarty explained, but from the moment a child takes his first step, he begins hearing negative messages: "No-no! Stay out of that! Don't touch that crystal."
Unfortunately, a preschool child cannot distinguish between his behavior and his "self." His experiences are like a bank account in the heart and spirit. The good things that happen to him are added as deposits. The bad things are withdrawals."
For this reason, parents concerned with a child's self-image should reduce the opportunities to negatively respond to that child in the first three years of life by "putting the crystal away."
McCarty, himself a single parent of two children for 11 years, has recently added two step-children to his family through remarriage. In order to reduce the negative messages in the new house and home he is building, he double-soundproofed walls between each room by adding $150 worth of extra insulation.
Providing a self-esteem-building environment for one's children from McCarty's definition gives then an "innoculation against the infections of life."
In order for a child to grow up with a healthy self-image, he must have: a safe environment with freedom from physical, sexual, emotional and social abuse; a sense of identity as a special, unique, irreplaceable person; feelings of connectedness, inclusion, acceptance, affiliation and unconditional love; the powers of achievement and hope that "even if they goof up they will eventually make it;" models or mentors to emulate and learn from; a risk-taking openness to new experiences and challenges; counseling available from a skilled and caring helper when an outside perspective is necessary; meaningfulness, or the ability and opportunity to go beyond oneself in helping others.