Secrets of building self-esteem
By Randy Cale, PH.D
A healthy sense of believing in one’s self is at the core of a happy, productive and successful life. We want our children to develop healthy self-esteem. Unfortunately, the more concerned we become about our children’s self-esteem, and the more we focus on building a strong sense of self, our efforts often create the opposite result.
In other words, in trying to build their self-esteem, we actually weaken their self-confidence. While this might not make sense initially, when we are really observant, we can see this in action. An example is taking your child to the gym to workout, but carrying him or her around. By doing this they cannot develop muscle. Likewise, children do not develop the “muscle of self-esteem” if we carry too much of the weight. To avoid this, consider these three secrets to nurturing self-esteem.
1.) Your children are always esteeming themselves…either positively or negatively.
Self-esteem is not a thing. It’s a way of thinking about ourselves and a set of beliefs about who we are. Children do not inherently think negative thoughts about themselves, but unfortunately they pick up negative messages from the world around them.
2.) Limit your children’s exposure to negative esteem robbing experiences.
A healthy self-esteem emerges in the absence of negative, critical esteem robbing experiences. Children can learn to think negatively about themselves based upon a variety of esteem robbing experiences. I would encourage you to ask these questions:
What do my children see and hear? Do they hear critical parents? Do they hear lots of negative comments? Are their parents critical of others or of themselves? Criticism in the “outside world” only breeds internal criticism.
How do kids entertain themselves? What shows do they watch? What videos do they play? Do they live an active life or is theirs a passive life where “the box” entertains them? Too often children are entertained passively, and they escape from the real life requirements of the world, such as the demand of exercise or mastering relationships with peers, or engaging in responsible, academic effort. Such passive activity is often an escape from living life and such escape never produces success, joy and never builds resilience and strength.
Do they hear parents constantly nagging? Nagging is like sending two messages. The verbal message is, “Take care of that.” The non-verbal message is saying, “You’re doing it wrong, you’re doing it wrong, you can’t get it right.” The impact of constant nagging is that your children hear that message as one of failure and incompetence.
3.) Stop trying so hard to build self-esteem and allow their inner strength to emerge.
There are two ways that our efforts can actually destroy the emergence of a healthy self-esteem. First, when we begin to offer constant praise and encouragement and offer repeated statements about how wonderful and unique and intelligent our kids are, we actually don’t help them in any way. Just test this. Notice if your kids begin to behave in ways that reflect a greater sense of self-esteem. You’ll find that it doesn’t work.
The second way that we can undermine self-esteem is by continuing to correct children when they complain against themselves. In other words, children will sometimes make statements that are highly self-critical. They complain about their appearance or about their intelligence or how other kids don’t like them. As your kids offer these complaints, notice that they are rarely offered in a manner suggesting a desire to solve a problem. Instead, these are self-directed complaints.
Rather than trying to repeatedly counter these complaints, act disinterested in them. Why? Because these are lies! Children are lying about themselves, and you are not interested in such self-directed lies.
The more that you engage the self-directed complaint (or lie), the more that you validate that complaint for your child. It’s as if your very effort to try to have them drop that complaint about themselves deepens the power of the complaint.
If children are predictably able to obtain the attention and energy of the family when they offer negativity, their brains begin to believe that the world cares about negativity. This is a formula for failure. So turn this around. Walk away from these repeated self-complaints and lies. Instead, reserve your attention for those moments when there is a positive event. Reserve your attention to notice a moment of cooperation or effort, a moment of responsibility or kindness. Put your energy into what you want while it’s happening and notice that their esteem will begin to grow.
Behind these three simple principles are the tools that give you true power and influence as a parent. For a complete solution to this problem, check out my new program, The Confident Child online at www.TerrificParenting.com. l
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.