Developed by Joycelyn Tucker Burgo, Project Manager,
Mid-America Addiction Technology Center at
University of Missouri-Kansas City

Relationship to Building Strong Families
Strong families are made up of strong family members. This module is designed to help participants tap into what they already know from their own experience, to help them recognize key concepts, to put these concepts into a framework, and to put words to their efforts to enhance their child’s self-esteem and self-awareness.

By applying the principles in this module, participants will give their children protective factors. Protective factors are qualities that safeguard children against becoming involved in activities that can hurt them. Children who have protective factors, sometimes referred to as resilient children, tend not to experience underage drinking, teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, and school failure.

A sense of self-worth is critical for developing resiliency, adaptability and an “I can do it!” attitude that helps us learn, grow, and cope with life’s frustrations and inevitable problems. Strong parenting provides roots and wings. Children need to feel safe, secure, loved, and part of a family. This foundation provides roots from which the child can develop wings to explore the world. The child’s first adventures experiencing the world are safe, small steps. As children get older, their attempts become bolder, and they gain a sense of who they are in relationship to their environment.

Parents are an essential part of their child’s environment. Children see themselves like a branch on a tree. The parents are the trunk that provides stability and security. If the child thinks something is wrong with the trunk, he or she will automatically think something is wrong with the branch. Therefore, in order to foster caring, responsible and strong children, adults need to have a positive view of themselves (self-concept) and serve as role models for their children.

Self-awareness is another key part of a child’s development. Self-awareness is how much we know about ourselves, our beliefs about who we are, and what we think our capabilities are. As a child’s sense of self develops, so does the child’s ability to blossom in school and with peers.

This is why the parent’s ability to provide wings is so important. In order to succeed, children need to gain confidence in their abilities and gain a sense that they can do things on their own. The precious time between birth and maturity gives parents many opportunities to balance roots and wings.

If a family is to remain strong, members need adequate time to nurture and support a healthy self-concept (or image) in each other. Parents can lead the way in providing experiences that enhance their children’s view of themselves. This module focuses on ways parents can build self-esteem in their children and themselves in order to improve the quality of their lives and strengthen family relationships.

Brief program description
Fostering healthy self-esteem and a positive self-concept among family members can make a real difference in how members view themselves and their ability to succeed in life. Research shows that parents who guide the development of resiliency factors in their children can help them learn to adapt and protect them from such destructive behaviors as drug abuse, underage drinking, and teen pregnancy.

This module examines factors that encourage development of resilience in children and strategies for enhancing their self-esteem and self-awareness. Hands-on, interactive activities help parents develop an awareness of their child’s need for a positive self-concept and allow exploration of methods for improving their child’s self-esteem and self-awareness. Participants will set personal goals for themselves at the conclusion of the session.

Research findings
Many researchers have been able to identify risk factors that hinder healthy self-esteem development in children. Risk factors are things within the child, family, or community that put children in danger of experiencing things that hurt them or damage their ability to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Knowing the risk factors can help parents protect their children.

Competencies that make children less vulnerable to those risk factors are equally important for parents to know. Resilience, “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or sustained life stress” (Werner, 1984, p. 68), has enabled children to succeed in school, avoid drug abuse, and develop a healthy self-concept. Werner notes resilient children can adapt more easily to change and have the following characteristics:

Social Competence - responsiveness, flexibility, empathy and caring, communication skills, a sense of humor (including being able to laugh at themselves), and any other behavior that increases their ability to get along with others. This helps the child establish and maintain positive relationships within and outside the family. For example, by having skills that make him likable, your son will learn that he is a likable person.

Problem Solving Skills - abstract thinking, reflectivity, flexibility, and the ability to try alternative solutions in both cognitive and social problem situations. Children who are able to solve everyday puzzles by trying something new or different generally do better in school. These skills can be seen in young children and older children who avoid drug use. Children who are strong in this skill keep their parents on their toes because “where there’s a will there’s a way.” They like to question and try different ways to do things.

Autonomy - self-awareness, sense of identity, ability to act independently, and ability to exert control over the external environment. If you have ever heard a 3-year-old say, “I can do it myself!” you have experienced a child experimenting with autonomy. This sense of knowing they can make it on their own and knowing what type of person they are will help them be successful in life.

For children in dysfunctional environments, such as families with alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness, autonomy also means the ability to distance themselves in an adaptive way from the dysfunction in the family. Resilient children in these types of families are able to adapt and see themselves as a healthy branch even though something may be wrong with the trunk.

Sense of Purpose - sense of purpose in life, “healthy expectancies, goal directedness, success orientation, achievement, motivation, educational aspiration, persistence, hopefulness, hardiness, belief in a bright future, a sense of anticipation, a sense of a compelling future, and a sense of coherence”.

This sense of a goal or target for their future enables children to delay gratification (or put off something that they want today so they can have something better tomorrow), avoid drugs and teen pregnancies in order to ensure a successful and pleasant future. A belief that they are going to do something and be someone in the future is an essential element in self-esteem, identity, and self-awareness.

The good news is that resiliency factors can be taught, modeled, and encouraged by families, schools, and communities. Resiliency in children is nourished if the family environment is caring and supportive, if there is a high parental expectation for a child’s success, and if the child’s participation in family activities is encouraged. School and community environments can foster an atmosphere of adaptablity and resiliency in children:

  • when the atmosphere of the school and community is caring and supportive;
  • when teachers and community members have high expectations for the children’s performance;
  • when opportunities for children to become involved and participate in a meaningful way are provided;
  • when children are given responsibilities.

Building resiliency in children and adults is a healthy human developmental process. Families with resilient members are strong families because they weather life’s difficulties and take care of each other’s emotional needs.

Goals and objectives

  • To understand causes of low self-esteem and lack of self-awareness;
  • To identify and discuss ways to create resilient family members with healthy self images;
  • To develop goals for achieving healthy self-esteem and self-awareness in themselves and their children;
  • To identify strategies for developing resiliency factors within the family.

Target audience
Working families with children


If you have any questions or need information, contact:

Kathy Dothage
Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
University of Missouri Extension
1205 University Avenue, Ste. 400
Columbia, MO 65211

Copyright © 2017 Published by University of Missouri

Last updated: 05/16/2017
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