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.
Our children and teens are under a lot of pressure when it comes to body image. They see the “perfect bodies” in pop culture through photoshopped magazine images, bodies of celebrities sculpted by personal trainers and time, and deceptive beauty created by make-up and camera angles on social media. Physical appearance and body image have become a hotbed of insecurity for our teens and young adults. But the University of Missouri has outlined a simple routine that can improve your teen’s body image. You can engage in this routine right in your own home and as a family. To uncover this routine and its benefits, the researchers from University of Michigan analyzed data from 12,000 students from more than 300 schools that stretched across all 50 states and Washington DC. Your children can benefit from this activity if they engage in it without you, but they will gain even greater benefit if you engage in it with them. It only requires a short amount of time and you probably already do it anyway. All you have to do is start engaging in this activity with your child and it can help improve their body image. What is this activity, this routine? Eating breakfast. That’s right. As simple as that. Research suggests that the more frequently a child ate breakfast during the week, the more positive their body image. And, the results were even greater if they ate breakfast with a parent. Eating with a parent allowed the parent to model a positive relationship with food, build stronger a parent-child relationship, and encourage a healthy start to the day. A.A. Gill, a British writer and critic known for food and travel writing, is credited with saying, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” Breakfast not only serves as a commitment to the beginning of a new day; it serves as the beginning of a positive body image as well. So, buy a box of cereal, toast up some bagels, make some pancakes or fry some eggs. Whatever you choose, enjoy some breakfast with your children.
I enjoyed a short hike along Cedar Creek with my wife and two nieces (6- and 7-years-old). We joined the trail where the picturesque Cedar Creek flows out of the woods and into the Youghiogheny River. We hiked a short distance “up creek.” With a 6 -year-old and a 7-year-old it was not a quiet walk. But, it was beautiful and very relaxing. We smiled and laughed. We enjoyed the trees and the “cliff.” We even saw some fish and a few caterpillars. When we returned home, I felt more relaxed, happier, even a little energized. Apparently, I’m not the only one to have this experience. A growing number of physicians prescribe park visits and hikes to their patients. Studies show that taking a hike in the woods improves mood and self-esteem, decreases tension, clears the head, and decreases anger and depression. Researchers have also found that taking a “nature walk” decreases repetitive negative thoughts about ourselves. Living in areas with high amounts of “green areas” or “natural spaces” decreases the chance of experiencing depressive symptoms by 20% and suicide attempts by 28% when compared to those who live without “green areas” or “natural spaces.” (Read Take Two Hikes and Call Me in the Morning) In other words, a hike through “green areas” leads to a better mood, greater happiness, and a greater sense of calm. Sounds like three great goals for our families: 1) better mood, 2) greater happiness, and 3) a greater sense of calm. And, it’s not hard to work for those goals. Simply take the family to your local park and go for a walk! You’ll enjoy fresh air and good conversation. You’ll learn more about one another’s lives and grow more intimate. You’ll come back home in a better mood, happier, and calmer. That is my kind of family activity! (Learn more about hiking and happiness in Hike to a Family Fun Night.)
Sue looked exhausted, frazzled, and run down when I arrived at her house. I thought she’d be more rested at home. We had hoped to go out for coffee and conversation, but she couldn’t find a sitter. So, I figured I’d go to her house and enjoy some time together. It didn’t go as I had imagined. We did not sit at the kitchen table to enjoy conversation while her son played nearby. No, her son demanded her constant attention. She was constantly on the go responding to his unending demands for a drink, a playmate, an interaction…constant entertainment. If he wasn’t making demands, he was getting into something that forced Sue to run over and stop him, redirect him, and then entertain him. We “couldn’t get two words edgewise” because Sue’s son required constant engagement. That’s when I realized the importance of giving our children a place where they can play safely without adult intervention. Giving our children a safe place play alone, without adult intervention, demands some preparation. First, you have to organize a child-proof room. But once you have established that safe area, children can play independently with nothing more than their parent’s observation. Parents can sit comfortably or engage in other activities knowing their children can play safely alone. And, allowing our children time to play alone without adult intervention will benefit our children in many ways. Let me describe just a few of the benefits of allowing our children to play alone.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, sparks children’s imaginations and creativity. Observe your children as they play alone and you will witness dragons, princesses, cowboys, doctors, and monsters come to life. You will see detectives and firemen working together to capture invisible villains and put out imaginary fires. Playing without adult intervention frees our children’s creativity.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, gives our children the opportunity to learn problem-solving skills. When we stay out of the way, our children find their own solutions to problems that arise. They brainstorm and find ways to banish their boredom. They learn to negotiate and compromise with one another. They learn to set boundaries and assert themselves kindly. These are all lessons learned in the classroom of play when we don’t interfere with the teacher of experience.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, helps children become more comfortable with themselves. They may explore new activities and, in the process, develop their interests. They learn they are “OK” without constant entertainment because they can entertain themselves by exploring novel activities. As a result of these things, they become more comfortable with themselves.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, teaches children to manage their time. Rather than having their time managed by scheduled activities, these children learn to enjoy the quiet. They also learn how to entertain themselves.
Playing alone, without adult intervention, allows children to learn to soothe their own emotions. They learn emotional management skills like distraction. They learn to focus their attention on what they have rather than what they do not have. They learn to soothe themselves.
As you can see, allowing children time to play alone helps them grow. Children learn so much in the classroom of play when allowed to play alone without adult intervention. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we never need to play with our kids. Our children need time to play alone and they need time when we engage them in play. Giving our children time to engage in unstructured, independent play without adult intervention carries many benefits we don’t want our children to miss.
What parents say is powerful in the life of their children. Children hang their life, their very identity, on their parents’ words. Even the words said in passing have an impact on children. If children constantly hear their parents call them “stupid” or “a disappointment,” they will come to believe they are “stupid” and “disappointment.” If, on the other hand, children hear their parents say “I love you” and “good work,” they will come to see themselves as lovable and hardworking. So, what do you want your children hanging their hat on? What words do you want them to shape their identity? I like these words.
I love you.
You make me proud.
I see you really put some hard work into that…and your hard work has paid off.
You have made great improvement. You must be proud of your hard work.
You look nice (beautiful, handsome, lovely) tonight.
That was a very kind thing I saw you do.
Thank you for….
I’m sorry I….
I am so glad to be your parent.
I enjoy watching you (play your sport, sing in the choir, play in the band, do you part in the play, etc.).
What would you like me to do for you today?
I’m sorry that happened to you. What can I do to help?
This is just a baker’s dozen of phrases every would child love to hear. What else would you have liked to hear from your parents growing up? Why not tell your child that very thing?!
A study recently published in the National Academy of Sciences reveals how to raise a narcissist, a person who believes they are better than everyone else. This study suggests several things that can contribute to the raising of a narcissist; however, one contributor is completely in our control. Every parent needs to know about this one contributor so they can avoid it. Specifically, this study suggests that parents help “turn their children into little narcissists by overvaluing them.” Really? Yes, children believe it when parents tell them they are more special than others and entitled to special privileges. Over time, they internalize that belief. They begin to treat others as less special than themselves. They act as though they deserve special privileges and entitlements. They become little narcissists. Parents might overvalue their children in subtle ways or very obvious ways. Consider just these three ways that parents can overvalue their children and communicate that they have special value or deserve special privileges.
Parents overvalue their children when they claim their children have special knowledge of many different topics, even one’s that don’t exist. In a study by the same authors, parents were asked if their children knew about “Queen Alberta” or “The Tale of the Benson Bunny.” Some parents claimed their children knew all about them. Ironically, the researchers made the topics up. When we claim our children know more than they actually know, we overvalue them. We risk creating a narcissist.
Parents contribute to the creation of a narcissist when they protect their children from consequences. When children are accused of wrongdoing and our immediate, adamant response is to defend their integrity, we may do them an injustice. Perhaps we need to do a little investigation first. We need to assure our children are innocent before we defend. Consider their track record. Get more information. Gather the evidence. Then determine a course of action. If we defend our children in spite of a poor track record and in the face of evidence to the contrary, we are teaching our children to overvalue themselves. We are helping to create a narcissist.
Parents help raise a narcissist by treating their children as though the world revolves around them. You know what I mean: letting them get out of helping around the house because they are special; encouraging their coach to give them special treatment because they are so much better than the other players; pushing teachers to let a grade slide because our little angel tried so hard or had other obligation; demanding others treat your child special because of their position or the position of your family; or, giving your child special treatment because they are so sensitive. These actions only help create a child who believes they are more special than others, a narcissist, entitled to special privileges.
Instead of treating your child as extra special, express realistic affection and warmth. Allow them to fail and grieve that failure, get back up, and try again. Let them experience the consequences of misbehavior. Appreciate the talents they have but teach them to appreciate talent in others as well. Encourage them to humbly accept what the coach tells them, even if they do have a better record than the guy who starts before them. In fact, teach them to encourage that other player rather than begrudge them. Teach them to listen to and respect their teachers and other adults in their life, even if they disagree with them or dislike them.
The choice is yours. You can treat your child as extra special, deserving of special privileges and entitlements and raise a little narcissist. Or, you can show your child affection, let them experience consequences, and teach them to be considerate of others. Then you can watch your child grow into a humble caring young adult.
Our children taught us an important lesson when they were mere toddlers. It’s true. I remember the lesson clearly. They told us by their actions and words: “We are not your puppets. You cannot control us.” They remind us of this fact every time we offer to help them and they say “No, I do” in their broken toddler English…or, when we tell them not to do something and they smile at us before doing it anyway. Children are not our puppets. They will not allow us to control them.
Most parents still try to exert some level of control over their children. For instance:
We fear for our children’s safety so we control their actions with rigid rules and expectations.
In an effort to protect our children from emotional pain and hurt, we hover over their lives and become involved in every activity and stick our nose in all their drama trying to control every outcome.
In anger at their disobedience or “attitude” we step back, distancing ourselves and withholding love at a time when they likely need to know our love is unconditional and never ending.
We may even try to change them by inducing guilt with statements like “Your mother would be so disappointed’ or “after all I’ve done for you….”
I’m sure you recognize some of these actions in yourself. I know I do. We attempt to control our children out of fear. Nonetheless, our children are not our puppets. They will not be controlled. Like Pinocchio, they do not want to be puppets. They want to be “real” boys and girls.
In all reality, our children are right. We hurt our children when we control them. Research suggests:
Controlling our children crushes their self-confidence. It leaves our children with a chronic sense of guilt, a belief that something is inherently wrong with them…that they are bad.
Children who grow up with over-controlling parents tend to be hypercritical of themselves and others. Critical of themselves, they struggle with a positive self-image. Critical of others, they can struggle with friendships.
Since over-controlling parents make every (or almost every) decision for their children, their children become dependent. They do no learn to think independently and make their own decisions. They rely on others to do their thinking for them.
Children who feel controlled may lie, sneak, or openly rebel in an effort to establish their own identity and have the opportunity to “think for themselves.”
Since over-controlled children do not learn healthy ways to assert themselves and confidently express their opinions, they have greater difficulty in relationships when they become adults as well.
Our children are right. They are not our puppets. We do them a disservice when we attempt to control them. We interfere with them developing a healthy self-image, intimate relationships, and the ability to assertively stand up for what they believe. What can a parent do to cut the puppet strings and let go of control? Read Cut the Puppet Strings to discover five actions that will do the trick!
What do you get when you cross hide-n-seek with a treasure hunt? A fun family activity entitled “Hide-N-Seek with a Twist.” (I know the title is not all that exciting, but the activity is a blast!) This family activity involves hiding, finding, and the treasure of affirmations. Here is how it works.
Each family member writes 2-4 affirmations (one sentence long) for each family member. You may have to help younger children with this step. Mom can help young children write for Dad and Dad can help them write for Mom. Keeps these affirmations a secret, a surprise. Affirmations may include statements like: “You are beautiful.” “I appreciate your helpfulness around the house.” “You’re effort in learning piano is really paying off. I love to listen to you.” “I appreciate your work with the children at church.” You get the idea.
Each family member spends the evening hiding their affirmation notes. Be creative in your hiding places. Slip some into lunch boxes, school books, pack backs, purses, or briefcases. You can even hide some among the cereal, the silverware, in the car, or under their pillow. Be creative.
Label an envelope for each family member. Pick a common area in your house and place each family member’s envelope in that area. You may choose to put the envelopes in front of each person’s dinner seat around the table…or on the refrigerator…or in the living room. Just be sure it is an area each family member frequents. And, be sure each family member has their own personal envelope.
Over the next week, family members will find their affirmations as they go about their daily routine. Each time someone finds an affirmation, they read it, smile, bring it to the common area, and put it in their envelope.
Parents want to raise children who have self-control. And why not? Science has shown that self-control offers many life changing benefits.
People with self-control make better choices. Better choices lead to fewer negative consequences and greater happiness. Better choices can also lead to more success—better grades, better jobs, more money, better health, etc.
People with higher levels of self-control “stick to” their morals. They exhibit greater honesty and live with greater integrity.
People with self-control resist temptation. They have better mental focus. In other words, unimportant distractions do not draw them away from important tasks…which takes us back to the first benefit noted above.
As parents, we want our children to experience the benefits of self-control. The real question becomes: how can we teach self-control to our children? Here are six ways to do just that!
Play games. Depending on your child’s age, you can play any number of games to promote self-control. “Simon Says” and “freeze tag” teach self-control. Checkers, Chess, and Battleship teach children to think ahead and consider consequences, an important aspect of self-control. Board games of all kinds teach children to “wait their turn,” which takes enormous self-control. Don’t forget pretend play. Developing a make believe character who engages in an imaginative activity demands planning, consideration of consequences, acting out emotions, problem-solving, and cooperation…all aspects of self-control.
Encourage self-talk. Self-talk offers guidance and encouragement through difficult tasks. Self-talk keeps children mindful of their desires and focused on their goals. Over time, self-talk becomes an inner voice prompting us to focus, move toward our goals, and ignore distraction. That inner voice promotes self-control.
Teach healthy distraction. When children feel a growing anxiety or anger, healthy distraction can help. It can help them control their anxiety and allow them to respond wisely—from personal integrity, rather than with a rash emotional reaction. Teach your children healthy ways and healthy times to distract themselves. This involves giving them some specific physical or mental action to take. “Sing your favorite song to yourself” or “think about what you enjoyed most on our last vacation” will work better than “just think about something else.” “Build a space ship with your Legos” will help more than simply “go play.”
Turn off the TV. TV watching will not teach the important skills involved in self-control. It does not encourage “waiting your turn,” thinking ahead, or focusing. Interactive social games and social interactions teach these skills. Turn off the TV and refer to #1.
Maintain age appropriate expectations. Adjust your expectations to match your children’s age. Your 6-year-old will not have the same level of self-control as your 12-year-old…or your 16-year-old. Your 6-year-old will need more hands-on assistance, which will slowly change to more verbal prompting as she moves toward puberty and adolescence. Age appropriate expectations include age appropriate discipline. A toddler who won’t sit still in a restaurant requires different instruction than a 12-year-old who won’t sit still in the same situation.
Do not assume a lapse of self-control is just bad behavior…listen. Allow your children to explain their choices and actions. Listen carefully to determine if they have an unmet need and teach them how to address that need. Listen for emotions that need soothed and help them learn to soothe them. Listen for motivations and intention that represent positive values and reinforce them while teaching appropriate ways to implement those motives and intention. Don’t assume a lapse in self-control is bad behavior…listen.
When you implement these 6 actions, you will encourage greater self-control in your children…from toddler to teen!
Do you want to raise a confident child? Of course you do. We all want our children to grow confident—willing to tackle healthy risks, able to stand firm in the face of opposition, willing to persevere through setbacks, comfortable with their ability to explore and achieve. With that in mind, consider these six tips for raising a confident child.
Develop a warm, trusting relationship with your child. Spend time with him. Talk. Have fun. Spending time with your child communicates how much you love him. A child who knows he is loved by his parents comes to see himself as lovable…and he grows more confident.
Trust your child with significant tasks. Give him an important job to do in the home and teach him the significance of that job. Inform him how the job helps you, his family, and his home. Praise his effort on this job. Thank him for doing it. Publicly and privately acknowledge his work. A child who knows his parents view his work and efforts as important will grow confident.
Know your child. Become involved in his life. Get to know his friends. Learn about his interests. Be present for his activities. Have an awareness of his daily schedule and life—who he is with, where he is, what he is doing. By knowing your child in this manner, you communicate how much you value him. A child who feels valued becomes more confident.
Set clear limits. Every child needs limits to protect him and encourage his growth. Age appropriate limits increase his opportunity for successful experiences. Successful experiences increase confidence. So, set healthy limits that reflect your family values. Communicate those limits clearly and concisely.
Practice self-control. Don’t be a pushover, enforce the limits. When you tell your child “no,” stick with it. This will demand you think through your “no’s” and have good reasons for saying “no.” Explain your reason in a brief sentence, then let your “no” be “no.” No need to debate or justify. You have already stated your reason. Now have the self-control to stick with it. When a child experiences a parent who will briefly explain a firm, loving limit and then stand by that limit, he feels secure. Most likely, he will eventually internalize that healthy limit. A secure child who has internalized appropriate limits becomes a confident child.
That being said, as your child matures allow him to have input into the rules and limits. When limits are somewhat flexible, be willing to negotiate. Give you child some voice. Listen to discover your child reasons for wanting to modify the limit. Ask questions to make sure you understand his reasons and to help him clarify his own reasons. Strive to truly understand your child’s reasoning. Clearly communicate your concerns as well. Then, when both your child’s reasons and your concerns are clearly understood, you can negotiate. Sometimes you may choose to go with your child’s idea. Sometimes you may not. Either way, a child who feels his ideas are heard and respected becomes a child who has the confidence to speak up.
Combining these six tips will create a warm, trusting relationship between your and your child while setting and enforcing clear limits on a consistent basis. This combination will help your child:
Feels loved and see himself as lovable,
Receives acknowledgement of his significant contribution to the home and sees himself as significant,
Experiences success within the clear boundaries of a structured family life, and
Internalized the values inherent in that structure.
In other words, you will have raised a confident child!