Having a positive self esteem is one of the most important aspects of our child’s development. Of all the judgements we pass in life, none is more important than the judgement we pass on ourselves. As parents we play a significant role in helping to nurture and develop this self esteem. We have been urged over and again to give praise, to reward and to cheer at every achievement. But have we got so good at the praising aspect of building self esteem that we are forgetting to develop some other very important life skills?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for positive reinforcement…but do we sometimes go a little overboard praising our child’s achievements? There are certainly those times when a child putting on their socks and shoes or picking up their drink bottle off the floor is treated with the equivalent adulation to those making their way to the dais to receive an Olympic gold medal. Yes we do need to positively reinforce our child’s achievements and behaviours as we do know that this can go a long way to them repeating positive behaviour, continuing to try and gaining confidence in their skills, abilities and endeavours. But let us not confuse praise with encouragement, and lets not pretend that praise alone will help reinforce positive self esteem to the detriment of some other very important life skills.
Why self esteem isn’t achieved by praise alone?
Self esteem is more than a feeling. It does rely on emotions and good and positive feelings, but it is also a cognitive or thinking process. It is about having confidence in our decisions, in our ability to learn and in our ability to make the choices and changes we need in order to respond effectively to change and circumstance.
Self esteem means having acceptance, responsibility, assertiveness, integrity, resilience and a sense of purpose. These are all attributes that require many elements of teaching, exposure and experience.
Self esteem is not measured by our achievements alone. It is not gained therefore by being praised for achievements alone. When a child gets a good grade at school or makes the “A” sports team, this in itself does not always equate to a positive self esteem. Likewise getting a bad grade or not making the sports team does not necessarily result in a diminished self esteem.
So how do we parent for postive self esteem?
Babies: This is the stage where love, nurturing and security are developed through our everyday care and interactions. We respond to cries, we provide a safe environment and we give them the security of knowing that they are loved and protected.
Toddlers: As they move into the toddler years we begin to provide them with opportunities to move toward independence. We provide them with objects and toys to achieve certain tasks. We give them harder puzzles, more blocks to build and bigger towers to make. We provide a safe environment for them to touch, taste, listen, explore and are thus encouraging them to gather self confidence in their quest for independence and learning. We continue to give them routines to feel safe, such as bathtime, dinnertime and storytime. We allow them the opportunities to do things over and over to perfect a task in order to gain confidence.
Pre-school years: At this stage our children are still eager to please (somewhat) and eager to learn new things . A lot of their learning is still done by copying and receiving encouragement.
On the whole we are pretty good with promoting this positive, encouraging and reinforcing type of development, particularly in these early years. Even if we are not a parent who sits down on the floor for hours building blocks, it is surprising how much of this play based learning aspect of building self esteem naturally takes place without us being fully aware.
Pre-Teens and Teenagers: As they move on to the pre teen and teen years however, self esteem can begin to take a battering. It is now that our children can no longer rely on mere praise to get them through the many challenging aspects of adolescent life. As we grow, we begin to realise that we cannot merely rely on the words of praise from our family. We now need to have our own inbuilt motivations to strive to succeed, to deal with changes and conflict, to make decisions based on our own judgements and to better understand the consequences of our actions.
The teenage years present us with so many changes, with added hormones of puberty, with body changes, changes to brain development and a change of focus from family to friends, peers and the wider social networks. In order for our kids to make this transition smoothly they need to have a whole range of other skills that have all aided the development of a positive self esteem.
In my next post we will look more closely at some of these other skills and some practical ways to ensure that our children are not just relying on praise to gain greater self esteem.