Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood

Father and DaughterPositive Parent-Child Relationships

Fostering Self-Esteem

Self-esteem develops as children experience love and responsiveness as part of a positive parent-child relationship. Parents can support children’s feelings of self-esteem by helping them to feel component and by accepting their child’s personal style.

To foster children’s self-esteem, parents need to provide them with a warm and nurturing environment as well as with opportunities that encourage a sense of individuality. Parents convey pleasure and acceptance of their children through praise, interactive play, and active listening.

Questions to Ask

  • Does your child have special activities that she likes to do with you?
  • How often are you able to spend one-on-one time with her?
  • Describe what you do together as a family. How often do you do these things?
  • How much time does she spend in child care?

If parents seem overly critical of the child:

  • What expectations did your own parents have for your behavior when you were young? What happened if you failed to meet their expectations?
  • What did you like about your parents’ style? How would you like to be different? Do you think that might be helpful with your child?

Provider Tips

  • Some children need more help with certain tasks than other children the same age. Caution parents not to shame the child if this is the case with their child.
  • Model giving “yes” as well as “no” answers to children during office visits — “You may not use my ophthalmoscope because it might break, but you may try out my reflex hammer.” Discuss this technique with parents who seem overly tense or critical when they correct their child.
  • Consider that parents who are overly critical may be unconsciously repeating experiences they had as children or may be identifying their child with someone else.
    • Help these parents separate their feelings about their child from their feelings about past experiences with others who remind them of the child.
    • Encourage them to focus on the positive aspects of their child and not to expect perfection.
  • Using the guidance listed below, help parents support their child’s self-esteem through affection and positive interactions.

Guidance for Parents

  • Your child loves to be with you and to have you all to herself. Spend at least 5–15 minutes of uninterrupted, one-on-one time with her every day. Do something you both enjoy—play, cuddle, read, sing, take walks, talk.
  • Make sure your child knows that you love her. Smile at her often and give her lots of hugs. Praise her for trying to do things as well as for succeeding at a task.
  • Ask your child about the things she can do for herself. Help her to recognize her strengths and the new skills she is developing.
    • “You ate all of your food by yourself. That’s great.”
    • “Look at the way you are throwing the ball. Isn’t that fun?”
    • “What a good job you did turning the pages of your book.”
    • “I see you can button your shirt by yourself now. How does that make you feel?”
  • It is common for young children to suck their thumbs or play with their genitals. If your child behaves this way, don’t shame or punish her. Ignore these behaviors and try to redirect her to other activities.
  • Don’t be surprised if you sometimes talk, act, and think the same way your parents did when you were young. Think about how you felt when you were a child and decide how you want to treat your own child and relate to her.

For children in child care or preschool:

  • If your child spends time in child care or preschool, make sure that her child care provider or teacher helps her to feel good about herself by:
    • Having appropriate expectations for her
    • Listening to and respecting her
    • Providing her with opportunities for learning, play, and safe exploration
Resources for Providers and Families

For Providers

Area of Concern: Critical or Detached Parents more information

Parents who have low involvement or negative interactions with their child may be exhausted or overly stressed, or may be repeating patterns from their own childhood. They may have a mental disorder such as depression or substance abuse.

A comprehensive family health history questionnaire, such as the Pediatric Intake Form, can elicit a history of such problems or risks. Referral to a mental health professional is indicated if family function is impaired.

For Families

Missildine WH. 1991. Your Inner Child of the Past. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

Family Activities

Guidelines for Special Time PDF


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