Building a child's self-esteem at the earliest ages

August 3, 2010

Part of it involves simply being calm and having a sweet disposition yourself, so your child learns to mirror your outlook, energy level and your values by what you do more than by what you say. Babies can sense your tension and stress level, so they'll know that you're upset when you tense up and pick them up. Try to start each morning with a soft "hello"...that can include a cute Good Morning song that you make up yourself or a gentle belly massage as you change your newborn's diaper. I do both and I try to include some nice-smelling baby lotion or oil at least once a day. Of course then you can't resist kissing them 4, 5 or 6 times because they smell so good! When things aren't going so well, like when your child gets sick everywhere, has diarrhea, gets a boo-boo or wakes up 3 times in the middle of the night, it gets harder. But if you take a deep breath and calm yourself down before you pick them up, then tell them not to worry and gently fix the problem, you'll cut their crying dramatically.

At our house, the sweet, calm peaceful environment continues with soft classical music or baby tunes playing on the stereo. My twins get their morning bottle to the gentle voice of Josh Groban, which also inspires me. Then a Johnny Cash baby songs C.D. kicks in while we sit on a window seat, looking outside at the plants and birds. When you take your baby for a walk, or dance around your house with your little one in your arms, make sure to whisper in their ear how special they are, how cute and smart they are and how nicely they fit into Mother Nature's plan just like the animals and plants. It helps subliminally soothe them when they tense up from being over stimulated, going for a doctor's visit (especially with shots!), and other stressful moments of a baby's life. They truly are sensitive, soulful little beings, so if you treat their feelings respectfully and kindly from the very beginning, they get the loud, clear message that they're loved. And nothing gives a child more self-confidence than that.

Experts say you should also encourage their curiosity. Author Todd Kashdan, who wrote CURIOUS?, says humans need to cultivate their curiosity to stay vital and happy. He says the urge to explore new hobbies, foods and friendships is half the yin-yang process that balances the anxiety of the unknown. So instead of running from experiences that cause fear, your child will learn that some change is good and they need to reach out to expand. Kashdan says our curiosity and threat detection systems evolved together and function best together to ensure optimal decisions in this unpredictable world. "We are all motivated by the pull toward safety and seek to avoid danger, but we also possess a fundamental motivation to expand and grow as human beings," Kashdan writes.

For your baby, that can mean something simple like letting them touch different kinds of fabric… feel the difference between ribbed corduroy, cotton balls, velvet, the soft kitty cat at your house, your older child's hair cut, and make sure to describe what the baby is feeling so they hear your voice. You can play children's instruments to a silly song so they hear the difference between what a drum, tambourine, cymbals or rattle sounds like. Watch their eyes light up! You can use different types and volumes of voices when you read children's books to them. Try a Southern drawl on The 3 Little Pigs, or a British accent on The Cat in the Hat. No one can hear you except them. So let your inhibitions go and pretend you're auditioning for a movie role. The baby will love it!

At night, make bath time an adventure with soft bath toys and silly stories from your childhood. You'd be amazed what can spark curiosity in a tiny person. In small, safe settings, let them learn that you are going to show them the many wonderful parts of life in small doses they can handle. Then praise them when they follow the sound of your voice... "Good boy, Hunter. You liked that fish tale!"

Experts say all of this will help keep brain function high as your babies grow up. Later when they're toddlers, tweens, teens and even adults, your children will already be in a pattern of trying new things and having self-control and tolerance for uncertainty. It can also help stave off age-related cognitive decline in their later years. Plus, it breeds happiness, which adds to self-confidence. A new Gallup poll of 130,000 people from 130 countries shows that the 2 factors that helped a person enjoy an experience were, 1) whether they learned something new or 2) were able to count on someone for help. You'd be doing both for your baby.

Have fun and start building that self-confidence!

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