You know there are a lot of things in your baby’s not-so-distant future that could test her self-esteem, from mean kids on the playground to that one subject in school that she just won’t be able to grasp as well as she’d like. She may be a few years away from these threats to her sense of self, but it’s never too early to start building up her defenses so that when they come, she will be ready.
One of the biggest components in your baby’s self-esteem is her confidence in her ability to cope with whatever life throws at her. And one of the most important ways she figures that out is by watching you model proportionate, reasonable responses to the challenges the world can introduce.
The way you act around your baby is a strong influence on what she thinks is normal, and the way she views the world. If she sees you and your partner reacting with panic any time something small goes wrong, she may start to build up the idea that any small challenge is a catastrophe, and she may not feel equipped to handle that. On the other hand, if she sees a model of stoic acceptance even of problems that genuinely are catastrophic, she may start to feel, as she grows up, that having negative responses when bad things happen means that she can’t cope with problems, which can hurt her sense of self-worth.
When your baby was a newborn, you started laying the groundwork for her self-esteem by meeting her needs, which gave her both the sense of being safe and happy and the beginnings of the sense that the fact that she was safe and happy was important to somebody, and the proto-understanding of her value. You’re still doing that every day, when you make her breakfast, change that dirty diaper, or read her a story at night, but it’s not just the fact of her physical well-being that’s important. The time you spend with her, one-on-one, engaging with her and looking her in the eye, is becoming increasingly important as she grows older, and differentiates herself from you further, and your opinion grows more and more important to her.
your baby has been getting more and more mobile since she first learned to roll over, and she has been curious about the world since long before that. Giving her the chance to explore her environment, with your watchful eye on her to make sure she doesn’t get into any trouble both gives her the sense of freedom to help her build the confidence that’s crucial to her sense of self-worth while, at the same time helping her feel safe knowing you’re close.
If she runs into an obstacle in her adventures and it doesn’t put her in any danger, try waiting a moment to intervene, and giving her the chance to solve the problem for herself. The knowledge that she can rely on herself to resolve issues as they come up is another important building block in the structure of her self-esteem.