Helping to improve your child’s self-concept

It’s probably not something you consciously think about, but as an adult you have a well-formed “self-concept,” an understanding of who you are, where you fit in, what you’re good at, what things you try to avoid, and a general sense about yourself as a person.

But for young children, especially at the age of puberty or early adolescence, their self-concept is just developing. This tends to be the times when children begin to form an identity of their own, one separate from their parents.

It’s a time when peers become more important and when the opinions of peers often carry more weight than what Mom or Dad has to say. At the same time, the physical and emotional changes that are a normal part of development are taking place, too, often leaving the child feeling insecure and even scared.

For a child who isn’t included in one of the more popular groups of students at school, he or she may develop feelings that “Nobody likes me,” or “I don’t have any friends.” Such feelings and insecurities are a normal part of growing up for many children but can also have a variety of negative effects impacting academic performance and even bringing on significant depression in a child.

When this occurs being a parent means having special patience and understanding. You’re likely to hear “You just don’t understand,” when you try to tell your child that he’s wrong about how other children view him or her. He or she doesn’t want to be told how to think. To help your child, try a different approach.

Even when you face a negative reaction, it’s important to continue to give positive, reassuring feedback. Learn to really listen to your child’s complaints and problems without being judgmental or critical. Be supportive and indicate that you understand.

If your child is showing clear signs of depression, from falling grades to withdrawing from favorite things, it’s a time to seek professional help. Your child’s school counselor can be a good place to start. In addition to having seen such problems many times, school counselors are trained to assist a child in learning how to think, rather than simply telling the child what to think.

A professional counselor can also help parents better understand what your child is experiencing, and can provide advice on dealing with the challenges you both are facing.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.