The preceding information indicates that just as the physical and intellectual development occurs regarding the child placed in your home, so does their emotional development. Self-esteem is a critical component of a child’s emotional well-being. Self-esteem is our feeling of self-worth – the picture of ourselves we carry in our heads. Self- esteem affects a child’s self-concept and motivates their behavior.

Children in out-of-home care may have low self-esteem. They have been hurt physically and emotionally by abuse or neglect and by not being able to be with their family. They often feel worthless and powerless. Parents and other adults in general, may seem unreliable, unresponsive, and rejecting. The child may lack information about why he has been separated from his family. When a person lacks information, it is very easy to feel worthless and incompetent and to behave irresponsibly. Without understanding why, it is difficult to know who to trust or
who to blame. Children who have been in multiple placements may be confused, angry and insecure; they may experience developmental delays due to abuse, neglect, or being separated from significant others. Such delays can cause frustration at their lack of success and satisfaction related to accomplishing physical, emotional, social and intellectual tasks. For example, a dip in schoolwork, causing a child in out-of-home care to repeat a grade, can worsen the child’s low self-esteem.

Ways to Build Self-Esteem

Healthy Communication

Closely observing the behavior of the child placed in your home can give you clues to his level of self-esteem. One of the first ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to work at developing healthy communication. As self-esteem improves, the child’s ability to control his behavior also improves. Healthy communication will help you understand the feelings driving the child’s behavior and will also build his or her self-esteem and confidence in you.

Are you a resource parent who thinks the main purpose of communication is to get information to your children? Communicating is not telling children to eat their green beans and reminding them to not talk to strangers. That is sending information one way. Communication is a two-way bridge connecting feelings. Healthy communication does more; it builds a strong relationship between you and the child placed in your home, enabling the child to develop a healthy self-concept and good relationships with you and others.

Building healthy communication helps the child to:

  • Feel secure, cared for and loved
  • Believe he matters and is important to you
  • Feel safe and not alone with his worries
  • Learn to tell you what he/she feels and needs directly in words, instead of through behavior

Be Available

Children need to feel that their resource parents are available to them. This means being able to spend time with them. When does the child placed in your home really want to talk to you – after school, before bed? Children rarely talk about feelings on command. Resource parents need to be available when children want to talk

Show Empathy

Tune in to how the child is feeling, even if you don’t agree with him. Empathy is about appreciating feelings – not about who is right or wrong.

Be a Good Listener

Even when you can’t do anything to fix a problem, being a good listener makes the child feel loved. Ask him for his ideas and feelings before talking about yours. Try to understand exactly what he is saying to you. What the child is trying to say to you is important to him, even if it doesn’t seem important to you. You don’t have to agree with what he is saying to be a good listener. When you listen first, the child placed in your home can calm down and be ready to listen to you later.

Listen First – Then, Be a Good Sender

If the child is heard first, he/she will be more receptive to listening to you. Make sure that your tone of voice, body language, and words all send the same message. For example, if you say “No!” and laugh, the child will be confused about what you really want. Use words to communicate directions about what you want the child to do. Send “you” messages and use feeling words when you praise the child. For example, “You really did a good job taking that phone message from the doctor’s office! I would have forgotten your sister’s appointment day and time if you hadn’t taken such a complete message.”

Be a Good Role Model

Children will copy your way of communicating. Young children learn better from copying what a resource parent does than by being told. If you use feeling words, it will help the child placed in your home learn to use feeling words to express himself. When resource parents use feeling words instead of screaming, doing something hurtful, or calling someone a name, children learn that using feelings words is a better way to deal with strong feelings. Saying feelings, rather than acting on them, helps children control themselves.

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