Kids today are growing up in a confusing time. They are taught to emulate and value people who have a lot of money and status and who are respected for reasons that have little to do with their character — reasons like having a large social media following or how tough they act on a reality television show. Values related to a person’s character, such as kindness and compassion, are not sought after in today’s culture.
Even though most people are impressed by a very luxurious car, most people also know that such an item will not bring a person lasting joy, and, in fact, only a positive self-esteem will really allow a person to feel fulfilled. In this day and culture, how does one develop a positive sense of self?
Parents have to help their children build an internal sense of self, in order to help them develop a healthy self-esteem. Children who have a healthy self-esteem feel a sense of mastery over their lives. They have confidence even when stressed, they recover from failure, and they understand and accept their strengths and weaknesses.
The current generation of parents believes in building children’s self-esteem by telling them things like you did a “good job” or you are “so special,” hoping their children will take these statements and feel positively about themselves. In fact, these statements have the opposite effect. Instead of helping a child to feel internally good, they teach a child to rely on and expect outside validation in order to feel good, leading to narcissism, entitlement and difficulty coping with the stresses of daily life.
Here are six ways to promote healthy self-esteem in your child:
1. Reflect back to the child the positives that you see. In the book “The Help,” a maid sees that a child she cares for gets little positive reflection from her preoccupied mother, and therefore, she takes it upon herself to teach this child about herself, offering the exact type of reflection that a child needs. She tells the child often, “You are a kind person,” with the intent of teaching the child to believe this about herself despite the harshness of her surroundings. Child development experts believe that the type of person a child develops into as an adult stems from how the person views himself or herself beginning in childhood.
2. Listen more, talk less. Stephen Covey has a great chapter in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” regarding listening for understanding. If your child would rather be in the theater than participate in a team sport, respect those wishes and promote the child’s interests by helping him or her develop a unique self, instead of pushing the child to be someone you want him or her to be.
3. Value connection. Use your positive relationship to motivate your child to do what you want him to do. Avoid using intimidation tactics to pressure your child into being submissive. That being said, your child should respect your authority, but that does not require yelling. Simply following through on your word promotes your authority.
4. Avoid judgments. We all make judgments about ourselves and others all day long. It’s important to be aware of judgments and to keep them away from children. When parents label children as “angry” or “weak,” the children begin to define themselves by these judgments, which have little to do with their true developing character, although children will internalize these negative judgments, impacting their self-esteem.
5. Demonstrate through words and actions that failure is a part of life. People with healthy self-esteem believe that failure is an opportunity for growth. Take risks as parents, and show your children that when things don’t work out, you know how to survive. Teach them that it’s important to know how to lose and to grow from the loss.
6. Teach your child to help others starting at a young age. Many high school students are required to do 40 hours of community service to graduate. But why wait until then to teach children about helping others? Making a difference in the world and helping others are the best inoculations against poor self-esteem for children.
Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at email@example.com.