Posted by Kesang Menezes who is a facilitator at Parenting Matters and mother of two girls aged 11 and 15.
In our parenting workshop, parents are always concerned about their child’s self esteem. "I want to know how to make my child confident." "My child is so shy he will not talk to anyone." "My child is too soft"... these are the concerns we hear.
What is self-esteem really?
Is it about being loud and aggressive? Is it about being willing to go on stage? Is it about being able to talk to the adults and mix with all the children at a party? Being Bold? - It seems to us that this is what every parent wants for his child today. There is no room for a child who is soft or gentle. No room for a child who is a listener rather than a talker? There is a belief that only the aggressive will succeed. And that is viewed as high self-esteem.
Is that what we want - a society of loud and aggressive people? And do we believe that those who are bold and ready to jump into any situation truly have "high self esteem"? How do we know how they feel about themselves inside? Go for a kindergarten fancy dress and watch the mothers pushing their children to perform. What is the message that child gets - "My mother will like me only if I am ready to go on stage. And if I do not I am a failure."
This brings us back to the issue of defining self esteem. Does high self esteem mean believing in yourself and being comfortable with who you are or does it mean being outgoing, competitive and forceful. If we believe the latter then we seek to give our child self esteem by constantly pushing our children? Such self-esteem is based on achievement - the child will constantly feel the need to achieve in order to feel good about himself. Without the medals and good marks his self-esteem collapses. He is a failure.
But if self-esteem is not based on external factors but comes from within, no one can take it away from your child. He is comfortable with himself and believes in his own capability. This child will truly be able to achieve his potential because he has been taught to look within rather than outside for guidance.
If that is the type of self-esteem / inner strength we wish to give our child and how do we go about it?
Acceptance - You are Ok - I love you for what you are. You do not have to keep doing things to gain my approval.
Respect - The tone and the words we use - A person who is respected believes in himself.
Autonomy - Giving up control - allowing choices and teaching decision making from a young age. Not doing for child what he can do for himself.
Trust - Believing that the child is a thinking person who will do the right thing when trusted.
Responsiveness - Being attentive in responding to the child gives the message- I am important to Mom/dad.
Believing in uniqueness - Every child need not be good at the same things. Being able to identify your child’s strengths and appreciate them. (never compare - it is the most de-motivating thing to do to a child)
All this is really difficult because it means completely changing our notion of what our role is as parents. We have been led to believe that the role of a parent is to constantly correct, scold, preach, push, We need to reflect on what all this does to the child and our relationship with him.
Can it be possible that ACCEPTANCE is the greatest gift we can give a children for him/her to have a really solid self esteem.