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Development of Self-Esteem in Toddlers

Welcome to the toddler years—a nonstop rollercoaster ride of joy, amazement and never ending challenges. As your little one leaves babyhood behind, he enters a time of rapid physical, mental and emotional transformation. He now begins to develop the social skills, like self-esteem, that are necessary for dealing with the challenges he will face throughout the rest of his life. Setting clear boundaries, teaching respect and parenting with love and patience will help your toddler develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.

Patient Parenting

Toddlers are curious little creatures, getting into everything and gone the instant their parents turn their backs. You couldn't wait for your tot to take his first steps, and now you can barely keep up with him. It's easy to become exasperated, but reacting to your toddler's antics with understanding and composure will have a positive effect on his confidence.

"Self-respect equals self-esteem," according to Barbara Stratton, family therapist and author of Your Child: It's Up to You! Communicating with your toddler in a calm, composed voice, even when you don't feel especially calm on the inside, teaches him the basic skills of "self-discipline, responsibility and cooperation," says Stratton. Shouting, blaming and intolerance can lead to feelings of guilt and lasting insecurity.

Wash, Rinse and Repeat

If you've said it once, you've said it a hundred times, but that doesn't mean your toddler internalized the lesson. Teaching a tot "requires frequent and consistent reinforcement," says Stratton. "It takes time and thoughtfulness to guide your toddler through his expressions of frustration." Positive reinforcement, such as praise for a task completed correctly, as opposed to punishment or threats for undesirable behavior, helps your toddler temper his own frustrations, build self-control and aids him in developing confidence.

Parental Expectations

You want the best life possible for your child, but there's a fine line between encouraging your toddler to be his best and living vicariously through his endeavors. Resist the temptation to pit your toddler's accomplishments against those of other children. The toddler who talks first, colors the best or performs any given task sooner than his peers isn't guaranteed a happier life. Children develop at different rates, and pushing your tot before he's ready can lead to feelings of failure and diminished self-worth.

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The Timid Tot

Some toddlers tackle the world head-on with bold and brave abandon, while others hesitate and hide when confronted with new people or unfamiliar surroundings. Building self-esteem and confidence is an ongoing endeavor, and your child might be going through a clingy period brought on by fearful feelings of being separated from you.

Lovingly reassure your toddler that you will return when you leave him with another caregiver. Avoid ridiculing his shyness; he needs to feel secure before he can feel independent. Some toddlers need more time than others to adjust to changes in their routines. Reward your toddler for small steps such as not crying when you leave him with a caregiver or making a new friend at the park.

A Work in Progress

No one said rearing a secure, well-adjusted child was simple, but the rewards far outweigh the trials. When raised with respect, a child develops "self-esteem, a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, regard for authority and a true understanding of love," Stratton tells the parents of toddlers.

A young child's confidence is vulnerable to criticism, neglect, extreme disapproval, shouting and physical punishment. Compassion, comfort, consistency and a healthy dose of humor are the keys to helping your toddler interact with others successfully with confidence and self-assurance.

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