News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.      Self-Esteem: What is it "Based" on?
   Parents often hear that high self-esteem in their children will ensure their well-being. But how does this elusive quality of "self-esteem" develop in a person and what can parents do to foster it?

The Secure Base
   Many things go into developing a person's self-esteem. Studies done by John Bowlby, a British child psychiatrist, show that the "secure base" is one of the necessary ingredients for the development of healthy self-esteem in children. He describes this secure base as a dependable, trusting relationship between children and their parents. When parents meet their children's needs, protect and value them, their children will have confidence in themselves and trust in the environment.

   Bowlby's studies are fascinating and show how a secure base can affect a child. He put one group of babies in a room with their mothers. A second group of babies was put in the same room but without their mothers present. Toys were placed throughout the room and Bowlby measured the distance that each child traveled as he or she explored the room and toys. Those children whose mothers were in the room and who were free to wander back to their mothers to "touch base" were the ones who explored more and traveled more around the room. Those children whose mothers were not in the room stayed close to where they had been placed and explored very little.

Developing Security and Trust are Critical
   What this and other studies tell us about self-esteem is that those children whose need to be dependent was satisfied when they were young, were the ones who in elementary school and beyond, became more confident. When children trust in their relationship with their parents, they are more likely to feel safe and have the confidence to venture into the world to explore, learn new things, and take some risks. They know that if needed, they can return to the secure base and get an added boost of love and comfort, so that they can go out to face the world again.

Letting Our Children "Touch Base"
   This concept can be put into practice no matter what our children's ages. We have all seen the toddler who crawls or walks away from Mother, returning often to touch her knee or get a hug. After receiving this boost, the toddler then feels safe to go off again to further explore.
   When children get a bit older, a nod or a smile across the room often suffices to give needed encouragement. Later, hearing our voice from another room may supply the needed support. When our children begin to visit playmates' houses for either a short stay or a sleep-over, it can be helpful to talk with them about what they can do if they are feeling the need for your comfort or support. Giving them options like being able to call you when they are ready to come home or calling just to hear your voice can help foster their sense of safety. Sometimes just knowing they can call or come home can be enough to give them the security to be able to stay. Also, children may be more likely to go to a friend's house or sleep over again if they know that when they get scared and need to come home, they will not be ridiculed or forced to stay.
   Even college age children who are away from home may need to make contact with their secure base at times when upset or lonely. Often a phone call and sympathetic ear are all that are needed to give the young adults the confidence to deal with issues which may arise in their lives.

A Final Note
   Remember to trust that your child will become independent when he or she is ready and much of readiness is determined by our children's own unique temperaments and timetables for growth. It is a gift we can give our children by providing them the secure base from which they can explore and grow, knowing that comfort and security are there when they need it. Our children will be more likely to develop a strong sense of self-worth and ultimately become more independent, if they have this foundational sense of security.

By Audrey Krisbergh, Certified Parenting Educator, Director of the Parenting Center at Abington

Sources and Recommended Reading:
Clarke, Jean Illsley, Growing Up Again
Briggs, Dorothy Corkhill, Your Child's Self-Esteem
Bowlby, John, The Secure Base
January 1999
Vol. 1/ No. 4
The Parenting Center at Abington
is a non-profit, non-sectarian community service organization.

Editor of News and Views: Deanna Bosley,
Certified Parenting Educator

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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