Today we hear a lot about self esteem as people look at a child or teen who is struggling.
It seems to be a common deficiency among kids who are under-achieving or getting in trouble.
What can parents do to help their child with esteem issues?
Many times we equate self esteem with the ability to do something well. This leads to parents trying to find something their child is good at.
Is this the best way to help that child? I would say, “No, it’s not.” Let me explain why I say that.
This plan can very well backfire for a number of reasons. It can become self-fulfilling prophecy as a child tries things and struggles or fails at them. Their idea of not being good enough gets reinforced with each “failure.” The wounded child has performance anxieties which can virtually paralyze them. They want to try something but are afraid it’ll just prove to them that they aren’t good enough.
The only safe way to increase a child’s self esteem is to value them for who they are, not what they do. This goes counter to our culture and, for most of us, the way we were raised. So we have to fight off our tendencies of giving praise for their performance only.
We value our kids when we spend time with them, encouraging them to do things they like without including some competitive aspect to the activity. Spending time shooting hoops in the driveway is good. But if it is viewed by the child as just practice for making the “team” and not that you simply want to spend time with them, it’s bad. Kids pick up on our agendas much more than we think.
Just as with us adults, if someone is paying attention to us and really seems to care and they are not easily distracted, we feel valued by them. If they’re talking on the phone to someone else and not really paying attention to what we’re saying, we feel devalued. So it is with kids, only more so. They pretty much are always unsure that what they say or care about is important to their parents. So when our attention is divided, they feel devalued.
The way to build self esteem in our kids is to listen to them, spend time doing things with them (with no agenda), allow them to explore what interests them (without judging it) and give them praise just for being them. Don’t just praise them on what they accomplish. If you just look your child in the eye and say, “you’re a great kid” when they’re just sitting there at dinner, it’ll go a long way to building their self-esteem. Then when they set out to try things, with their self-esteem in place, they can handle “failure” and still be intact.