In our parenting workshops, 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 often.
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 mixing with adults and children at a party/function? 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."
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 will seek to give our child self-esteem by constantly pushing our child. Such self-esteem is based on achievement - the child will always feel the need to achieve in order to feel good about himself. Without the medals,good marks and praise his self-esteem collapses.
But if self-esteem is not based on external factors but comes from within, no one can take it away from our child. He will be comfortable with himself and believe 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 - We need to work on giving messages such as - I love you for what you are. You do not have to keep doing things to gain my approval.
Respect and Trust - This is reflected through the tone and the words we use. A child who is respected and trusted believes in himself.
Autonomy - By giving up control we encourage children to make choices and take decisions from a young age boosting their confidence. Not doing for a child what he can do for himself helps build self reliance.
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 her is imperative. Never compare - it is the most de-motivating thing to do to a child.
This may be 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 our child. We need to reflect on the impact of our actions on the child and our relationship with him.
Can it be possible that ACCEPTANCE is the greatest gift we can give a child for him/her to have a really solid self esteem?
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.