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Building your Child’s Self-Esteem

As parents of Cleft children this topic is of great importance to us, as like other children born a with a difference, whatever it may be, our children have to deal with all the usual peer group issues along with being born with a cleft.

By giving our children realistic appraisals of their abilities; the way they look and how they talk; we will be helping to boost their self esteem. Children know when you are fibbing, this will lead both to a false sense of reality and a lack of trust in what you are saying is true. Reality leads to acceptance and higher self esteem.

By giving your child a greater understanding of their condition they are far more likely to accept it and the surgeries they need to have done.

Here’s how you can help…

  • Acceptance – Our children need to know they are loved for who they are. They need to know we accept their ambitions, recognise their strengths and recognise their feelings.
  • Acknowledgement – We all need to be seen. Acknowledge what you see your child is experiencing, just labelling the feeling can be liberating and affirming for anyone, your child included. 
  • Appreciation – Children need to be noticed; they need praise and encouragement. Help them succeed by breaking down large tasks into smaller ones and praise when they achieve them.
  • Attention – Love equals time. All children need quality of time and their parents to come down to their level and play with them. Always be pleased to see them, even though it can be a one way road through the teenage years, and show them respect. Be aware of how you talk to them.
  • Affection – Everyone needs to be touched. Make sure you hug your children right through their life and don’t stop as they get older. Our children see themselves in how we look at them so it is vital we show them respect, love, trust and affection.
  • Accountability – Children need to know they are capable so when problems arise don’t interfere or lecture, but empathise with them and ask them how they think they can sort it out. Our questions help our children work things out themselves and develop strategies for the next time. They know they have choices and can fix problems on their own. This is extremely important in a peer group situation when you won’t be there to help.
  • Responsibility – Give children age-appropriate chores because the ability to do things themselves boosts self esteem. True self esteem is the ability to pat themselves on the back – to know they have done the right thing or made the right choice.
  • Balance - As human beings we are many things. Don’t focus on one thing to the detriment of all the other parts that make up that person.  Your child was born with a cleft, but it isn’t who they are.

Another way to look at it…. the ‘V’ of love

Give children choices -which make them wise- and limits -which keep them safe. When our children are small they start at the bottom of the ‘V’ but as they get older they get more choices as they can do more for themselves. The trick is to get it right – if the ‘V ‘ is too narrow or too wide you will have rebellion.

You’re the role model

Children need to know that the big person is in control at all times. However we need to be flexible. For instance, if they want to do something and you don’t, give them the opportunity to give reasons why it should happen and if you can, change your mind, if you can’t then give them the reasons for your decision.

We all know that children learn by imitation, so if you are not feeling good about yourself or a situation they will borrow your fear. Therefore as adults and parents we should seek help if we need it, for our children’s sake as much as our own. Help, helps.

Thanks to a presentation from John Cowan of Parents Inc for this material.

Secondary School

Hopefully the groundwork has already been laid for a confident, self-assured teen who is comfortable in his/her own peer group. The need to belong at this stage is a strong one and as young adults they should have formed a circle of close, supportive friends. This can be supplemented by their own special friends who may be going through the same experiences as they are via our own TeensPlus and Teens Facebook site links.

If they are changing schools at this stage, as parents you need to be doubly understanding and keep the lines of communication wide open. This is when the Cleft NZ links to their own age group and Facebook will be invaluable.

For episodes of teasing or bullying use the same (above) tactics as for a younger child.


This is usually stepped up during teenage years but corresponds to when other teens are also having work done- braces,etc. At this time dental hygiene is extremely important and as teens are now doing this for themselves a little nagging wouldn’t go amiss!


The same angst as all teens go through- but with the added pressure of looks becoming so important. Again, self-esteem should be strong enough to get them through but additional support may be offered through the many agencies and even through our young-adult and adult mentors.

Seek help

If you think your young person is struggling with low self esteem.  Don’t wait – do something about it. Talking and researching more information empowers you. Facing our fears can sometimes make them go away. It will at the very least,give you some new ideas to try next.

  • Talk to Cleft New Zealand
  • Contact your GP
  • Contact your Cleft Co-ordinator to see if there are any services available or that they can refer you to.

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