Self-esteem and your child
Praise with purpose
IT’S HARD TO hide your beams of pride when your child does something for the first time. Whether that’s obtaining a degree or blowing a spit bubble, we tend to think the best moms are the ones leading the loudest, largest cheerleading squads. It’s normal to want to celebrate, and it’s very much in the spirit of our times to give children loads of positive feedback. We think this builds self-esteem, see.
But does it? Self-esteem isn’t a synonym for confidence. It is, instead, a healthy assessment of your strengths and weaknesses and it means you neither under- nor over-value yourself. At best, it means you actually like yourself.
Parenting experts are pushing back against this culture of over-praising. Instead of building children who are calmly confident in their abilities, with a realistic sense of their limitations, these experts say the tendency among coddling helicopter parents to shelter their snowflakes from every criticism and insulate them from every hardship can build fragile egos that crack under pressure. After all, self-esteem that requires constant external validation is not real self-worth at all.
Self-esteem-building is about much more than meaningless praise. It is about building resilience to life’s (inevitable) failures, about knowing how to pursue personal satisfaction, and about evaluating yourself while developing a genuine appreciation for your unique set of characteristics and abilities. Here are some ways you can contribute to the blossoming of a child with healthy self-esteem in your home:
You love your child, and you probably tell them so regularly. But it is also important to show how much you accept your offspring for the person they are. Start while your baby is tiny, by making eye contact, laughing together and sharing hugs and cuddles: all this shows your very young child you accept her just how she is.
Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Rather than telling them, this will show them that you like being around them. Show your children that you love them for who they are, not for what they can do. For older kids, try thanking them when they have done a task well or tried to please you. And here’s a left-field idea: when you’ve been needlessly crabby or lost your temper, apologise. It shows your child he or she is a valued member of the family, who is also entitled to respect, it demonstrates that even a person you love very much can err, and it demonstrates to your child ways of righting a wrong. And that feels good!
BE A MIRROR
Children learn from observing the adults around them – that means you, mom and dad. “So as a parent you should show them how you yourself can be confident and stand up for yourself. Then your child will feel more confident doing the same,” says educational psychologist and Your Baby expert adviser Cara Blackie. The flip side is, of course, that low self-esteem can also be learnt from role models, so if you struggle with liking yourself or low levels of personal satisfaction, the best thing you can do for your child is to give yourself the gift of working on improving in this area.
DOING FOR’ VS INDEPENDENCE
You want to allow your children the pleasure of being trusted with making a choice – yet you do need them to conform to some of your rules, such as wearing warm enough clothing. This balancing act is super hard to get right and you’ll likely fall off the beam many times. That’s okay!
So pick your battles: tell your twoyear-old she can choose any of her longsleeved tops or dresses. Then respect her choice even if she doesn’t match.
Allowing a child to grapple alone for a while is important, because on their third – or fifteenth – attempt, they may just tie the bow, and that sense of achievement will make them feel great about themselves. Don’t rush in. Allow your child the chance to develop competence at a task.
This takes time and effort. “You can’t praise your child into competence,” says US psychologist and lecturer Dr Jim Taylor on his blog, The Power of Prime. Rather, let your child take certain risks (carrying the juice jug across the room) as well as solve his problem when the
START WHILE YOUR BABY IS TINY, BY MAKING EYE CONTACT, LAUGHING TOGETHER AND SHARING HUGS AND CUDDLES: ALL THIS SHOWS YOUR VERY YOUNG CHILD YOU ACCEPT HER JUST HOW SHE IS
GIVE AGE-APPROPRIATE CHORES GIVE BALANCED FEEDBACK
When you’re distributing praise, try to be realistic. Dr Taylor, who is allergic to the lazy parenting phrase “Good job!”, says that toddlers only need you to echo what they’ve just done. Saying, “You climbed up the ladder by yourself!” shows your child that you’ve seen him. He will beam with pride.
Don’t be afraid to qualify your praise. You might say, “I think you’re the best three-year-old recorder player I know!” (Well, it’s true!) Admit that others can be better at certain skills: “Alex runs faster than you, but you catch the ball more often. You’re both good for the team.” Your child can feel pride, especially because he knows you are not lying, and not just blowing smoke to make him feel good. He is even learning to be generous, and acknowledging others’ achievements.
A clever trick is to allow your children to “overhear” praise, while you’re talking to a friend, for example. This will make the praise even more valuable. Try: “Do you know what happened? Sihle
Be wary of comparisons between your children – it can paint them into a box if they are always characterised as the “wild” one or the “sensitive” one. Let them choose for themselves, understanding that all of us can display different traits in different situations.
Comparisons always leave one person worse off, so it’s best to focus on each child’s individual traits and not in relation to each other. For the same reason, avoid name-calling or belittling or sarcastic language, and don’t accuse your child (“You always do X or Y”). And it’s worth stating again: If you do slip up – and we all do – be the bigger person and apologise. YB
consequence of the risk is that there’s juice all over the floor (mopping it up with a paper towel by himself).
At the same time, you don’t want them to become disheartened, so you can “help” a little if the task is too challenging. Knowing when to intervene is difficult, so don’t beat yourself up for the times you get it wrong.
As they age, encourage your children to pursue their interests and – crucially – stick with them even when it is hard to do so. The hit of accomplishment at the end will be so worth it.
Nothing makes a child feel like a valued and indispensable part of the household like giving her her “own” job, even if it is just opening the curtains in the lounge, at this stage, for a two-year-old, or helping clear the dinner table at three, or attempting to make her own bed at four. dropped his snack at playschool, and apparently Themba picked it up and put it back on his plate for him. Wasn’t that sweet of him?”