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10 Ways to Make Your Children More Resilient

Helping Children Develop Street Smarts

Things Will Be Different

Parenting 911



by Susan Ginsberg, Ed.D.


Why are parents so concerned about boosting their children's self-esteem, with some schools even including self-esteem as part of the curriculum?

"A child's self-esteem affects every area of his existence, from the friends he chooses, to how well he does academically in school, to what kind of job he gets, to the person he chooses to marry,” says Stephanie Marston, psychologist and author. But how do you define this elusive, intangible concept?



Marston defines self-esteem as a sense of being both lovable and capable. Children need to know that they are loved and accepted for who they are. At the same time, they gain confidence by mastering tasks appropriate to their age level.


Self-esteem is also the ability to sustain good feelings about yourself after a fight with a friend or a bad grade. Without it, your sense of self crumbles under criticism or you give up after making a mistake. As child development specialist Dr. Ava Siegler puts it, When things get tough, a child with low self-esteem has little ability to trust or believe in himself. Instead, he must constantly rely on the opinions of others to shore himself up: "Am I smart?" "Do you love me?”



For years, parents were told to develop self-esteem in their children by praising them, no matter what they did or how well they did it. We know now that too much praise or the wrong kind of praise can actually lessen a childs sense of self worth. If you tell your kids everything they do is wonderful, they won¡t learn the difference between a so-so effort and a special one, and they¡re less likely to try to do their best.


You might even discourage a child from pursuing a valued activity, says psychologist Dr. Lawrence Balter. He illustrates this with a story about parents who made a big fuss about a poem their child had written. They talked about it for days, made copies to send to friends and relatives. But the child never wrote another poem, apparently convinced that he could never again meet the extraordinary standards implied by his parents gushing enthusiasm.”


Just telling kids how great” they are, rather than praising them for actual achievement, can backfire in another way. When children who have an unrealistic, inflated opinion o themselves are rejected or mocked by others, they are likely to become hostile, aggressive, and sometimes even violent.


What their peers think of them is a major concern of preteens. Friendships can be complicated and difficult at this age, and you may need to help them deal with some of the issues. For a child who is having trouble making or keeping friends, it can be helpful to meet some other kids outside of school at the Y or in a Scout troop. While we all have self-doubts at times, preteens (as well as teens) often have mood swings that can make you think that everything you have done to build their self-esteem was in vain. But rest assured, it will get sorted out.




š      Encourage new experiences and risk taking. These could be tasting new foods, playing new sports, climbing rocks, meeting new children, or trying out for the school chorus. Even if some of these fail, others will lead to new accomplishments.

š      Name your children¡s feelings and your own. For example: I know you¡re disappointed because you didn¡t make the team.” I feel happy because Aunt Sally will be staying with us for a whole week.”

š      Be specific when you give praise. Instead of saying, You¡re a terrific artist,” make a point such as I like the way you made those clouds all white and gray.” Or, if your child¡s soccer team doesn¡t win, point out some of the things kids did right: Everyone was a really good sport and you passed the ball very well.”


(adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)



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