In addition to communicating openly, providing love and attention, and enabling individuation, parents can also promote their children's development of healthy self-esteem by encouraging them to join and identify with healthy social groups. Mental health professionals use the term "socialization" to describe this process of encouraging people to spend time with other people.
Self-esteem is in large part the product of a social process. One of the main reasons people feel important and special is because they have friends and belong to social groups which regard them as important and special. Children who feel like they have an important role to play in their family, their peer groups, their community, and their culture will tend to feel good about themselves. For this reason, parents should make sure that children have opportunities to join desirable groups and have time and space available to play with friends. Children also benefit from the opportunity to participate in cultural events and celebrations. They need to learn their heritage and to feel a part of the future of that heritage.
Children become identified with their culture most primarily by directly participating in cultural events and expressions while at home, while at school or when at religious or cultural clubs or organizations. As children participate in different groups at school and in the community, they will interact with many different people; some similar to themselves and some quite different. This diversity provides children with practice forming and maintaining a range of relationships with peers and adults in a variety of roles. Parents can model how these relationships can be formed by exposing children to their own diverse group of friends, and by talking with them about ways to strengthen friendships. Children should see their parents treating their own friends with respect, paying attention to their feelings and needs, talking out problems calmly, spending time in positive activities, and standing up for themselves in constructive ways.
Fostering a Love of Service
Volunteer community service work is an excellent activity parents can encourage that supports children's positive self-esteem. By helping children realize that there are needy people in the community, service work helps them learn to look beyond their own needs and to place them in proper perspective. Service work also helps children directly build positive self-esteem. As children see their contributions, creative ideas, and hard work having a powerful impact on other people's lives, they begin to feel useful and valuable. Third, volunteer service work provides children opportunities to gain important job-related skills which may later benefit them in their home, school, and work life.
As not all parents are familiar with the practical process of helping children participate in volunteer service, we provide practical tips for how to prepare and support children's volunteer involvement in our Volunteer Service article.
Another rewarding and self-esteem building experience for kids during middle childhood is going to camp. Camp gives children opportunities to make new friends and provides them exposure to additional positive adult role models and new peers who serve to further develop children's social skills. Camps provide a rich and varied learning experience by exposing children to new experiences and activities, and teaching them new skills. Camp also provides parents an alternative to child care during children's summer (and possibly spring and winter) school breaks. Lastly, camp is fun!
Details of the camp selection and preparation process are explored in our Camp Experiences document.