Experts say at any age, it's important to surround your children with several people who emulate your ideas and morals. It's a way to reinforce the patterns you're establishing, through verbal and non-verbal communication. That means your child will hear people say similar things to their mom or dad. And more importantly they'll see most of the people in their lives doing the things just like you've said. Over the years, your child's Self-Esteem Dream Team might include other family members, babysitters, teachers, coaches, neighbors, and best friends (yours and theirs).
You can't choose family members, but if one or two of your family share your outlook on life, try inviting them more frequently to be around your child or children. The ones who don't reflect your goals and values might not be the best to bring around as much. So if their grandmother, aunt, uncle, or cousin is similar to you, be sure to ask them over for dinner every couple weeks, or see if they'll take your child for a walk or come to events at school for your child, etc.
All of my family lives out of town, but when we can get to see my mom, my Aunt Christine and my Uncle Dewey, it means so much to my 10-year-old Jake and it quietly signals the same values to my newborn twins... even though I won't see the results for years. My best friend, Judy, is one of many friends who serve as our "Philly family." She shares the same core values as me and is wonderful with all 3 boys! (She's pictured above with the twins.)
Continue building your child's "Self-Esteem Dream Team" by hiring babysitters or nannies who are like you. They should use the same tone of voice (hopefully calm), have similar energy level (high energy during fun activities like arts and sports; medium to low energy when it's bed and bath time); and respond to stress or crises the way you would (hopefully rationally with a big dose of kindness.)
I have two wonderful college students who have helped me this summer and their sweet dispositions have made all the difference with all three of my children. Jake shares a love of music with Lily so they discuss The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and movies they like. He sees that she is responsible coming to work each day at our home and taking great care of him and the babies. So he's learning the value of hard work by watching her go through her work week. He sees the same with me.
With Katie our grad student, he sees her reading her research books when the little ones are napping. So he's more willing to do his summer reading when she's reading too. He hears her talk about how much she loves college and how she spent most of the weekend studying for a big test. It sends an important message to Jake: that you can be cool and smart at the same time. Jake sees me reading and knows it's one of many things I love to do too.
My twins love both girls and smile when they see them come in the door. They love being snuggled or getting a bath and taking a walk outside or sitting in the park with Katie or Lily. Even when the babies spit up or start crying, they know my sitters are going to respond quickly and lovingly just as I would, without getting angry at them. That calms them down much quicker than someone who is impatient with babies.
After your kids get old enough for school, arts/hobbies or sports, you have less control over the people in their lives. Not many of us get to choose our child's teachers, coaches or drama directors. But during each experience, try to work with those people to get a team approach going with your child. Make sure you go to parent conferences and tell the teacher what's important educationally and socially to you for your child. Keep the communication going with an occasional email or friendly chat with the teacher (not when they're taking attendance, but during a quiet time when they can focus on what you're saying.) And if your child is on a team with a great coach, compliment them for their hard work... tell them you appreciate how much time they spend with the kids and their calm but intense approach to sports or the arts. If your child has a coach or leader who yells, curses or is mean switch them to another league if possible. Or try to attend practices and games so you're there... the coach is less likely to have an outburst if you're sitting in the stands. (And parents can be just as guilty of cursing and inappropriate outbursts... so it's not unique to the coaches or music directors, etc.) Drop the coach or art teacher a note of thanks after the class is done or the championship is over. It will mean a lot to them and it's a nice touch if your child signs it too.
Dr. Kevin Caputo of Crozer Chester medical center says the Dream Team members should have one or two small differences from you, just to stretch your child's imagination a bit. Maybe they like reggae music or hip hop instead of classical like you... but at least they like the arts. It's more about the broad themes being the same, and less about the tiny details. But Caputo concurs that this Pyramid of Confidence, especially if you start early, is crucial to having a self-confident child.
"If you build a foundation early, your child will be that much stronger and more confident. Don't wait to start sending positive signals and giving reinforcement to your children. Otherwise it's hard for them to 'catch up' and build their self esteem later."
Through it all, discuss with your child what you like about different teachers' styles and values. That way they're learning your values verbally and indirectly as well. Before long, you'll see your child using the same calm tone, patient approach and smile that you and your dream team use in his or her own life when they're dealing with their siblings, the cat, their friends and grown-ups. It's delightful to see Jake calmly soothe his twin brothers, or gently tell our cat Zolo to behave. He's patient with them because our dream team and I have all been patient with him for years! And I'm already starting to see the twins quietly wait for each other to get soothed when they're upset too. Maybe our calmness is rubbing off on them already!
Good luck building your Self-Esteem Dream Team.