Tell your child that he did a good job and that you’re proud of him, even if he thinks he didn’t do such a good job. Remind him that he’s good, smart, strong, and handsome. Point out the things he does well, like schoolwork, helping around the house, being nice to others, playing sports, singing, drawing, or making people laugh. Focus on the good things as much as possible. Smile, laugh, and play with your child.
Feeling good about himself can give your child the strength to get through everyday life and times of trouble. These activities will help your child to:
This activity helps your child learn that his skin color is special and beautiful. Children of color are often made to feel that their skin color is a negative or “bad” thing. The images they see in the media can make the negative feelings worse.
In this activity, you can help your child feel good about how he looks. You can teach him to love his skin color because it is his, and because it is beautiful. You can also use this activity to remind your child that there are good things about him that have nothing to do with how he looks.
Many older children are embarrassed to think or say good things about themselves. Some children think it makes them seem stuck-up. To help them feel more at ease, you may want to practice saying positive things with them out loud. Once they get used to hearing positive things about themselves and saying these things in their own words, they may not be as shy to think good things.
This activity gives children a way to talk about their skin color and their physical features, and to learn to love these traits. Children need to know it’s OK for them to feel good about themselves, their skin color, and their features. Through this activity, you can help your child see himself in a positive light.
Dr. Kenneth Clark was a noted psychologist who conducted a famous experiment with dolls. He took dolls that were just alike except one was brown and one was white. He asked African American children to pick the “nice” doll. Most chose the white dolls. He asked the children to hand him the “bad” doll. Most chose the brown doll. This experiment was used to show how segregation and discrimination had damaged the self-esteem of black children. It was referred to in the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education case that declared school segregation was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
You can set a positive example by telling your child one good thing about himself every day. If you can, talk about this good quality in front of other members of the family, so they will get into the habit, too.
It’s easy to get into the habit of only talking to your child about things he does “wrong.” He needs your help to fix his mistakes, bad choices, or poor actions. But, children also need to know when they’ve done good things.
This activity can help you get in the habit of saying positive things to your child, and of pointing out the things that don’t need to be fixed. Telling your child when he’s done something good or “right” lets him know that you think he’s a good person. It also makes him more likely to do that good thing again. You can do this activity anytime and with lots of people, like when you’re eating dinner, when you’re driving to the store, or when you’re getting your child ready for bed.
*Adapted from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Nuttall, P. (1991). “Self-esteem and children.” (Family Day Care Facts series). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts.
This is a good activity for older children. The things we see on TV and in magazines have an effect on all of us. In this activity, you can use that effect to help your child feel good about himself. A child who feels good about himself is more likely to see himself in a positive light. He may trust his feelings more easily. He may feel more confident making his own choices.
To help him build a positive image of himself, this activity centers on positive images of African Americans—ones that show African Americans as the strong, smart, beautiful people that they are.
It may be helpful to start this activity during Christmas, Kwanzaa, Black History Month, or birthday celebrations. TV and magazines show more positive images of African Americans during these times, so it’ll be easier for you to find good images for the activity. And, because these holidays show how diverse African Americans are as a people, you can teach your child to value the rich differences within his culture. Point out the outer and inner good, whenever you can.
Low self-esteem puts children at risk* for problems, like doing drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking, getting in trouble, and other things. If your child sees himself in a negative light, he may be less able to say “no” to others, or to stand up for himself. If your child picks out or draws images that make you think he has a poor self image, you may want to ask a counselor, spiritual advisor, or health care provider about how to help him feel better about himself. Go to the Just for Parents section of this book for more details.