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Developing Kids' Authentic Self-Esteem

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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Want to raise an amazing kid? Then quit telling him how “amazing” he is; how “special” she is!

Pumping up your kid’s ego by repeatedly telling him how amazing he is may have been a good idea decades ago when kids were handled harshly and self-esteem wasn’t considered important. But in today’s world with “good job” as the response to everything a kid does, parents need to back off and learn how to help their child develop authentic self-esteem.

This is not accomplished with constant over-the-top praise. It is accomplished by helping kids learn how to deal well with setbacks, squabbles at home, squabbles with friends, feeling left out, feeling inadequate, giving up easily, being criticized and more.

Kid Confidence How do you help kids deal with all these issues? A few ideas follow but the best advice I can offer you is to get your copy of “Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem.” This book, hot off the press, authored by child and family psychologist Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, will provide you with an abundance of gold nuggets to help you help your child become a confident, compassionate and cherished human being!

Does self-esteem matter? Certainly! Having low self-esteem is handicapping in so many ways. Yet, typical strategies used to help kids with low self-esteem just don’t work. Telling kids “you’re great” when they don’t feel “great” makes kids feel more ashamed than proud. That makes sense. After all, kids aren’t stupid. When they see that their actions don’t live up to the praise they receive, they dismiss and discount whatever you’re saying.

So what can parents do to help kids feel better when they're harshly self-critical? Here are 3 ideas from the book:

  1. Reflect Feelings, Instead of Negating Them.
    Suppose your kid is harsh with himself because he missed an easy basketball shot. “My team lost because of me; I can’t do anything right; I’m such a loser.” It’s natural for parents to jump in with a counter-argument, hoping to make everything all better. But it doesn’t. It just makes your kid feel you’re not listening to him or you don’t understand. So, what’s a better response? One that indicates you understand what he’s feeling but don't agree with the harsh judgments he’s making. “I see you’re feeling miserable right now because you missed that shot. Sure, you wish you had made it but you're getting better each time you play. Remember the two baskets you did make! And how well you passed the ball!”
  2. Moderate Your Praise.
    Praise that is over the top typically has unintended consequences. “Good job!” for an ordinary achievement can be interpreted by your kid as, “so you think that’s the best I can do!” Or, it can be viewed as an empty utterance that’s quickly discounted. Effective praise, in contrast, highlights the effort and progress your child has made. “You spent a lot of time studying for your math exam. This “A” shows that your studying paid off. Good for you!”
  3. Ask Empowering Questions.
    "Why” questions seem to be natural for parents to ask when they’re frustrated with their kids. “Why do you keep telling yourself you’re stupid?” “Why do you listen to what those kids are saying?” Kids, in response, shrug their shoulders, mumble “I don’t know” or just get more upset. So, nix the “why” questions. Instead, ask “what” questions that suggest a path forward. “What can you do differently next time?” “What can you learn from this?” “What’s a step forward you can take? Well, that’s just 3 bits of wisdom you’ll get from “Kid Confidence.” A lot more is there, parents. So, get thee to a book store and snuggle in to read it on the next winter day. You will feel terrific as your kids start developing skills that will give birth to authentic self-esteem!
Copyright © 2019: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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