Self esteem gets a bad rap. The “self esteem movement” started in the early 1970’s after Nathaniel Branden published his book, The Psychology of Self-Esteem. The challenges began when the term “self-esteem” became synonymous with “everybody wins.” As adults, we can look back on our mistakes and slip-ups and recognize some of the best learning opportunities were within those “dark times.” Unfortunately, our children have a few years yet to go before they can look back and see the learning and growing that come from struggling.
Self esteem in its purest form is really about self worth. It is the internal assurance that one is a “good” person, worthy of the good things of this world as well as capable and persistent enough to endure the challenging times. People with healthy self esteem can recognize and accept both their strengths and their weaknesses. They are driven by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. People with low self esteem look to external “proof” that they are good, worthy, and capable. They tend to focus on their weaknesses and any good feelings are usually temporary without the constant reinforcement from other people.
Think of self esteem like a flu shot. The flu shot doesn’t prevent you from getting sick but it does reduce the symptoms and the duration of the flu if you get it. Fostering high self esteem in your kids is like giving them a flu shot. It inoculates them, giving an extra layer of protection when the tough times hit.
Moving to a new home is one of those tough times for the whole family. Assisting kids with the difficulties they face when moving includes the care and feeding of their self esteem. Much like the flu shot, helping your kids build positive self esteem is definitely not a one-time thing. It’s not as hard as you might think but, at the same time, it does take some thoughtful planning and awareness.
First, you can think about what makes you feel worthwhile…remember, self esteem is not just feeling good about yourself. It is deeper than that. It’s about self worth. Kids feel worthy when they are listened to….really LISTENED to. When we pause our own external and internal dialogues to actively and reflectively listen to our kids, they feel like an important member of the family and worthy of being listened to respectfully. Remember, SILENT and LISTEN have exactly the same letters…don’t forget to close your mouth to open your ears!!
And speaking of respect, kids need to be spoken to with respect. Next time you’re having a difficult conversation with your child, think about whether you would talk to a good friend or significant other in that way. If we want our kids to say “please” and “thank you,” we must role model that behavior for them as well. Our kids may (who am I kidding…they most likely will) at some point speak to us with sarcasm and disrespect. Our job is not to reflect that communication but to role model respectful, appropriate conversation.
Giving them our attention, using eye contact when we speak, and understanding how they like to receive affection all contribute to higher self esteem. Some kids don’t mind, regardless of age, if you hug them or say, “I love you” in public. Other kids prefer to get their parental affection with a smaller or no audience. Even, or should I say especially, after a day that might have been filled with resistance and rebellion, your child needs to know they are ALWAYS accepted and loved as a person and an important member of the family. You may not enjoy or accept their behavior but you ALWAYS accept who they are.
And finally, that two-headed “monster” of praise. Indiscriminate praise has been actually proven to lower self esteem. When we praise our children with words like “good job” or “way to go” for every single thing, they come to rely on that outward reinforcement to make them feel worthy. There is no doubt children (and adults too) need praise. Being recognized for our accomplishments feels really good!! It is important to remember that even when the outcome does not go as planned, recognizing the effort is extremely important. “You worked really hard on that project.” “I know you wanted to win but I am so proud of how hard you worked!!” Praise like this tells our kids that a high level of effort is valuable and important. It communicates that they are capable of achieving what they set out to get accomplished. And if they feel capable of achieving what they set their mind to, they also feel capable of getting through tough times with perseverance and patience.
For more on helping build “eSTEEM” follow this link to imom.com for a great tool to use with your kids.
No parent should move without a written game plan.
For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.