Self-esteem is not easy to come by
in today’s world. Our culture communicates that “ordinary” is not
“good enough”…that self-esteem is based on performance, achievement,
being better than the next guy. This leads to a self-esteem built on sand,
shaky ground at best. The common answer to this problem is to shower our children
with praise. Unfortunately, this does not help. In fact, research suggests that
lavishing our children with praise may either lower self-esteem or make
our children less willing to pursue challenges.
So, what can we do to help our children gain a more positive self-image? Eileen Kennedy-Moore gives a very insightful answer in Greater Good Magazine. It may sound strange, but the answer lies in helping our children take their eyes off themselves and learn to focus on something bigger than themselves. This is a great answer…and we can help our children do it at any age! Here are a few ways.
Immerse your children in a project or experience that they both enjoy and are challenged by. This might include building a model, drawing, reading, studying a favorite topic, playing a sport. Encourage them to get lost in the adventures of great books or music or hiking, rock climbing, or art. You’ll know they have experienced this when they become absorbed in the activity, lose track of time, and enjoy the challenge presented.
Let them bear witness to acts of courage, generosity, and virtue in other people. This will motivate them to care about others and to act courageously in expressing their care for others. They can bear witness to caring, generous, and courageous people by learning the stories of heroes. Tell them stories about family members and friends who have engaged in generous, kind, virtuous acts. Talk about historic figures who have engaged in generous, kind, virtuous acts. As Mr. Rogers has said, “Look for the helpers” and then point them out to your children.
Nurture compassion in your children. Children begin to feel compassion at a very young age (this video shows children leaning toward the “good puppet” for whom they have compassion as young as 18 months). Nurture their compassion by letting them witness your compassion in helping others. Provide opportunities for compassionate action as a family. Visit a sick friend or a nursing home. Involve them in volunteer work as part of your family. Volunteer at a shelter. Run in an event raising money for a need you and your child care about. Encourage them to care about their friends’ well-being and teach them practical ways to do so. Nurture compassion.
Experience awe as a family. Make it a point to enjoy those things that elicit awe. Watch a sunset together. Enjoy the vast, panoramic view of the ocean, the star-filled sky, or a mountain range. Enjoy the moving harmonies of great music or the intricacies of fine art. Experience the soul elevating times of worship together. Introduce your children to those things that move you to awe. And, when they discover something that moves them to awe, experience it with them.
Each of these tips will help your
children focus on something bigger than themselves. As they do, they move away
from an excessive self-focus and self-evaluation, both of which hinder a
positive self-image. They move toward curiosity, caring, and values that
promote a positive confidence and a deeper, more joyous life.
An ancient saying, included in many marriage ceremonies, states that “Love is not arrogant and does not boast.” In a roundabout way, research now supports the truth of this statement. I say “roundabout” because the truth of the statement comes by way of awe. We experience awe when we experience something that expands our view or understanding of the world. For instance, we may feel awe in response to the vastness of nature, the beauty of a truly compassionate act, or the all-encompassing beauty of a majestic piece of music. Each of these experiences expands our view of the world around us and makes us feel…well, smaller. Feeling a sense of awe plays a role in our health, happiness, and social connection. It increases our humility. In fact, individuals who report experiencing awe more often in their daily lives were rated as more humble than those who did not report experiencing awe in their daily lives by friends and family. Those who experienced awe also acknowledged their strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced way and recognized the impact of outside forces (including other people) on their personal achievements. This sounds like the very definition of humility, doesn’t it? The sense of humility, in turn, increases a person’s desire to engage with and feel connected to others. Of course, a humble person also tends to have deeper, more secure relationships than an arrogant person. A humble person is more likely to take the other person’s best interest into consideration and is more easily trusted as a result. And…trust leads to better relationships.
And there you have it…awe leads to greater humility lead to better, more secure relationships. So, if you want a better family life, experience awe together. To get you started, here are 4 ways you can experience awe with your family. (Read more in Using the Power of Awe for Your Family.)
Go for a hike in the woods. Climb to the top of a mountain and look over the
valley below. Look up at the stars on a clear night. Stand on the ocean shore
and ponder the vastness of the sea. Go snorkeling and enjoy the colors. Watch
the sunrise or sunset. Nature often elicits awe. Enjoy it as a family.
Try something new and exciting. Novelty contributes to awe. Visit someplace you have never
been before. Try something new. Go to a symphony or musical. Visit the art
museum. Go to an area of the country or state that you have never visited
before. Novelty opens the door to awe.
We experience awe when we experience a sense of smallness and we often
experience that sense of smallness when we learn something that amazes us. Get curious
and learn. Learn about the complexity of the human body, how a bird flies, the
character of God, or the wisdom of ancient sayings. Each of these can expand
our sense of the world and put our own lives in a different perspective, a
perspective of humility.
Stand in awe of God. Worship as a family. Pray as a family. Experience the awe
of answered prayer. Gather with other people and sing as a family. Many people experience
awe in the religious setting of worship.
When you do experience awe, you will
experience greater humility. When you experience greater humility, you will
experience greater intimacy in your family. The ancient wisdom is true again,
“Love is not arrogant and does not boast”…and that is awe-inspiring!
These are alarming and devastating statistics. Something is missing I our son’s lives. I believe our sons desperately need to receive at least four gifts to change these disturbing statistics. And, they receive these gifts from us, the adults in their lives!
Strong families. Strong families begin with strong marriages, marriages that reflect mutual love, sacrifice, and service. Strong families also include actively involved fathers. Active fathers teach their sons how to treat others, how to manage their emotions, how to engage the world with honor, and how to live with dignity as a male.
A sense of purpose bigger than themselves. Our sons need an honorable vision of their place in, and contribution to, the world. Parents help nurture this sense of purpose by sparking interests, nurturing dreams, and supporting thoughtful responses to injustices that arise. This can be as simple as encouraging our sons to befriend the “odd kid” at school or volunteering with our son to feed the hungry, visit the lonely, or care for the needy. Our sons’ lives and visions must go beyond the sports arena, the garage band, or valedictorian status. We need to help them develop a vision of how they can respond to the needs of those around them. Another way to build a sense of purpose involves helping our sons experience awe, to stand amazed at the vastness of the bigger world that surrounds them. We must help our sons realize they are an important part of a much larger and vaster purpose, which leads me to the last two gifts.
A deep sense of connection.Connection with other people, family in particular, is protective, nurturing, and sustaining. Connection protects against addiction(Click here for more information). It mitigates pain. It boosts immunity. It nurtures positive values. It enhances a positive self-concept. It encourages more intimacy and continuing connection. Connection with God brings a greater sense of purpose and awe. Connection with nature brings a sense of awe contributing to less self-centeredness and more patience (Read Using the Power of Awe for more info). You get the idea. Our sons need a deep sense of connection to their families, their God, nature, and the world of others around them.
The freedom and support to express a full range of emotions. Our sons need a life filled with laughter, love, and joy. They also need to know it’s alright to experience deep sorrows, fears, and frustrations in life. Boys benefit from learning to accept the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears. They grow stronger as they experience and learn to express happiness and emotional pain, ecstatic joy and moments of anger in beneficial ways. They learn this skill in strong families that freely accept emotion, connect through that emotion, and teach respectful expression of that emotion.
Our sons have a deep, even desperate, need for these four gifts. Our world has a desperate need for our sons to receive these gifts so they can grow into strong men. You, the fathers and mothers of our sons, have the joy and responsibility of giving these gifts to your sons.
Cornell University recently completed an interesting study about the “evolutionary advantage” of a positive attitude. They were able to simulate 40 generations of people while looking at the impact of attitude on survival. (Read a review here.) The results suggested that those who survived for multiple generations:
Attached more importance to long-term happiness than to momentary happiness,
Remembered past happiness for longer periods of time, and
Attached greater meaning and importance to the upswings in their situation than the downswings.
You may be thinking, “But I’m not an evolutionist. I believe in creation.” That’s OK…so do I. One might interpret these results to suggest we were created to live longer and more successfully when we do the same three things listed above. Said in a slightly different way, those who “survived”:
Attached more importance to the eternal than the temporal,
Remembered past blessings and kept them in mind each day, and
Attached greater meaning and importance to times of blessing than the actual struggle itself.
Let me make this a little more personal though. I mean, it’s kind of hard to think about 40 generations. Let’s narrow it down a bit. If we create a family environment that promotes these three actions, our children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren can learn to be happier, more successful, and “survivors.” How do we promote these three actions in our families? Here are a couple of ways.
Develop an environment of gratitude in your family by thanking one another often.
Tell family stories of joyful events and successes, funny experiences and surprise blessings.
Tell family stories of how persistence and effort in times of struggles led to positive learnings or other positive results.
Practice showing kindness to others as a family.
Promote rituals of celebration. Mark your family values and happy events with celebration.
Find ways to experience awe as a family. Watch the sunset. Listen to a concert. Visit a cathedral or the Grand Canyon. Experience awe as a family.
Make prayer and worship a part of your family life.
Take a moment to recall the last time you experienced something immense…so immense that it made you stand in awe…so immense that it led you to change your perception of the world. Perhaps you felt a sense of awe when you watched the gymnasts compete during the Olympics. Or, maybe you felt a sense of awe after seeing a picture of the Grand Canyon or perhaps the power of a recent storm. I felt a sense of awe driving through the Laurel Mountains this weekend. Recently, I read a series of studies showing that experiencing awe gave one the perception of having more time. Time seems to expand after experiencing a sense of awe and a person feels like they have more time. With an expanded sense of time, people often exhibited more patience. They also showed a greater willingness to give their time to others and they experienced a momentary boost in life satisfaction. All this because they simply experienced awe! This made me think…wouldn’t it be nice if my family members exhibited more patience, shared their time with one another, and seemed happier for a time? Experiencing awe could facilitate this experience. When we find a way for our families to experience awe together, we encourage them to feel like they have more time and, as a result, increase their patience and willingness to spend time together. So, how can we help our families experience awe?
·Visit places and events that are awe-inspiring. This might include visiting a natural formation like the mountains, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the sunset. An awe-inspiring event could also elicit awe…an event like a concert (the symphony, the CLO, or the ballet) or something like the Cirque du Soleil.
·Share awe-inspiring stories with one another. Tell your family members about something awe-some that you experienced. This could include something you saw, something you heard, or something you read.
·In all of these events, take pictures so you can re-experience this awe at a later time by simply reviewing the pictures and talking about the event with one another.
·You can also seek out awe-inspiring videos to share with your family. It’s fun to look and fun to share.
·Worship together. Christian families have the opportunity to experience awe in their worship of an awe-inspiring Father. Take the time to seek out aspects of God that produce awe and share those with one another. Combining the last two points, I’d like to share this video with you…an awe-inspiring video. So, gather the family around and share a time of awe. Enjoy the benefits of sharing this awe with your family.