A healthy self-esteem is all about feeling good about self and believing in our abilities. People with good self-esteem are generally good at handling conflicts, making and keeping friends and resisting negative peer pressures. They are assertive; they are able to deal with criticisms and failures positively.
When a child is repeatedly labeled as lazy, good, artist, gifted, average, dark, and beautiful or anything else, they start identifying themselves with these labels. They start living them and thus hold on to these labels through their adult hood and even in old age too.
Negative labels are destructive for the self-esteem of the child. When repeatedly labeled and put down as lazy, shy, arrogant their self-esteem suffers. Children accept these as a part of their existence and continue to live them. They do not challenge these labels. Repeatedly put down on failure, children believe they do not have the ability to succeed. They reinforce themselves “I always fail, I have never succeeded, and I cannot succeed”.
Positive labels are also stressful for children as they are burdened to keep up that label.The labels of being obedient, good or intelligent take a huge toll on the child where the child growing into adult feels obligated to go with the parents’ opinion, cannot refuse others for the fear of losing the label or avoid doing anything that he/she is not confident about winning. The child tends to become a people pleaser.
Children’s self-image is also influenced by the beliefs and perceptions of others around them. Others beliefs about physical attributes like tall/short, fair/dark, large/blunt/pointed nose, dark/ blue eyes affect their belief about self. They consider themselves socially acceptable/unacceptable based on these beliefs of others around them. They attach labels to themselves. This affects their self-esteem.
How can they be helped? Rather than labeling, the specific behavior of the child should be appreciated or pointed to. Being positive and showing belief in their abilities, supporting them to develop new practices will build their confidence to challenge the labels given to them and explore new helpful behaviors.