Any half-decent parent instinctively wants the best for their child. We want him or her to grow up to be happy, healthy, strong and good(natured). Right? That's what it basically boils down to.
We do all kinds of things to try to steer them towards the road that will lead to the those traits: happy, healthy, strong and good. Somewhere along the line though, it seems like a kid's self-esteem got mixed into that list. High self-esteem. According to just about every parenting magazine, book, blog and mommy-group, we should all be focusing on building our kid's self-esteem which will ensure they grow up to be happy, healthy, strong and good. High self-esteem is the key to everything.
I disagree. The scientific research of the last five or so years disagrees as well, so don't just take my word for it. Look it up. Actively trying to build your kid's self-esteem is a waste of time and energy.
Let's start with what self-esteem is. What does it mean to esteem, either oneself or another?
noun - respect and admiration, typically for a person: he was held in high esteem by colleagues.
verb|with obj.| (usu. be esteemed) respect and admire: many of these qualities are esteemed by managers. |as adj., with submodifier| (esteemed): a highly esteemed scholar.
ORIGIN: Middle English (as a noun in the sense 'worth, reputation'): from Old French estime (noun), estimer (verb), from Latin aestimare 'to estimate.' The verb was originally in the Latin sense, also 'appraise' (compare with estimate), used figuratively to mean 'assess the merit of.' Current senses date from the 16th cent.
So, according to actual definition, self-esteem is really self-worth or self-respect. It's not some abstract idea that a child has to feel like they are capable of anything or that they are amazing in every way ... which is what, it seems, many parents think. Self-esteem is not the same as confidence.
As I started doing research for this article, I went to search kid's self-esteem and came up with some suggested search terms that kind of floored me. Kid's self-esteem worksheets? Kid's self-esteem poems? Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up.
As parents, we want to believe that we are all-powerful when it comes to shaping our children. Although that is true in many aspects, a parent cannot build their child's self-esteem in a real way.
As parents, we want to believe that we are all-powerful when it comes to shaping our children. Although that is true in many aspects, a parent cannot build their child's self-esteem in a real way. I want my kid to have genuine self-esteem but, sorry, a worksheet, poem or book is not the way to help her get there. Only she can 'build' her self-esteem. Only she can impact her level of respect for herself. No amount of overzealous praising or 'self-esteem worksheets' will make someone respect themselves.
So, how do you assist your kid in building their own sense of self-worth, self-respect and self-esteem? Consider first what makes you respect or value yourself as well as what makes you hold someone else in high esteem. Do a little brainstorming. It basically comes down to only a handful of things:
1. Do something hard
2. Achieve excellence in something
3. Put effort towards something
4. Act like a decent human being
Facilitate your kid in these four areas! Actively seek out opportunities for her to put them in use.
Encourage her to take a college prep class instead of an easy one
Get her extra lessons so she can be first chair in violin
Point out how proud you are of the extra effort she is putting in when you see her practicing her soccer moves without you prompting or nagging
Do new family activity over the weekend like hiking or volunteering
Allow her to work out her own issues with her friends or peers and give her the opportunity to stick to her morals and values
Stop doing so much for your child when they're capable of doing it themselves
That's it. The rest is up to your kiddo. It's not something you can do for her. If anything, trying to do it for her will result in the assumption that your praise isn't real because it's excessive and she'll think it's because she's not really good enough. Falsely boosting a kid up results only in narcissism or fragility. It might work in the short term but, eventually, it's going to be a problem. Be cognizant of the words that come out of your mouth and the actions you put on display to your child; you really are the most powerful force in their world.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on The Art of Better. It has been republished here with permission.
Jennifer Smith is a full-time freelance writer and blogger based out of Atlanta, GA. She helps other ambitious women live their best lives through simplification and self-development. She frequently writes on the topics of no-nonsense parenting, building strong marriages, wellness, and gratitude, all while telling it like it is.