Society tends to look at children with health challenges through the lens of what they can’t do. When enough people look at your child from a deficit perspective, it can be hard to keep your child from internalizing that point of view –-your child may, unfortunately, see him or herself as “less than” other kids. That’s where you come in. Here are some ways to help your child see the best in him or herself:
- Teach Self-Sufficiency
Your child may not be able to do everything him or herself. But by helping your child find the things that he or she can do, you can give your child a sense of his or her power. Whether it be helping to take care of family pets or learning to do some of the self-care tasks that may have become so natural for you, helping your child tap into his or her independence can help prove their self-worth.
- Accentuate the Positive
Is your child a musician or artist? Is he or she empathic with animals or good with technology? Providing opportunities for your child to express his or her strengths is a powerful way to boost self-esteem.
- Put Yourself on the Inside
When you talk to your child, try using the word “we.” It’s the difference between saying something accusatory like, “You need to put away your toys,” and “We need to find a better way to help you organize your toys.” When a child feels aligned with you rather than against you he or she feels included and accepted, which helps self-confidence.
- Offer Choice
In addition to teaching self-sufficiency, offering choices can let your child express his or her personal power. These choices can be as insignificant as two options for dinner or rearranging the bedroom furniture, or as crucial as letting the health care team know how he or she likes to be treated, or finding certain aspects of their treatment they can manage themselves.
- Facilitate Understanding
As your child grows, he or she will have questions about their health challenge. These may be specific health questions or they may be emotional ones, about feeling ‘different’ from other kids. When these questions come up, try to explain the basics of the health condition in a way that makes the distinction between the condition and the person. Your child is not his or her health challenge, but an amazing, complex and gifted human being. As far as emotional issues, give your child many opportunities to express his or her feelings, and always seek professional help if the issues are greater than you feel capable of addressing. The more he or she understands about the health condition itself, the more your child can avoid the low self-esteem that can occur if they feel defined by their illness.
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.