In the 1970s, we started hearing the term “self esteem” used frequently in child development. Parenting had traditionally been authoritarian: I’m the parent, and you do what I say or else. But then child development experts started telling parents that techniques that were too strict or harsh would harm their child’s self esteem. So what exactly is self esteem?
Definitions for self esteem:
- Self esteem is confidence or satisfaction in oneself; it is a sense of personal worth.
- Self esteem is a judgment of oneself or attitude about oneself. It is a collection of beliefs about oneself that can be negative or positive.
As parents, we want our children to develop positive self esteem. Using praise and encouragement are two ways we can work toward that goal.
Using Praise Effectively
Praise is an expression of favorable judgment or an expression of approval or admiration. It comes from outside of the child. Praise focuses on a product.
We say things like “you’re so cute,” “that’s a beautiful picture,” or “that’s nice.” Praise is good, but it can be overdone.
When child development experts started talking about self esteem, parents got the impression that you should never say anything negative to a child and you should always tell them they are great. We ended up with kids who were looking for external praise at every turn. You don’t have to praise every little thing your child does. Watch out for what we call “mindless praise”—praising unenthusiastically and without thinking.
If you have an infant or toddler, you really can’t praise them enough. It’s OK to tell them they are the best thing that ever hit the planet! Remember, though, that sometimes you can let them do things without verbal praise. When you child does something interesting, simply smile and nod.
Why Encouragement is Important as Children Develop
As your child gets into the preschool years, it’s time to think about using more encouragement in place of the praise. Encouragement inspires one with courage, spirit and hope. Encouragement focuses on the process—how we get there—rather than on the product. In our desire to help our kids develop good self esteem, we sometimes forget to teach them to praise themselves. Work on making statements that teach the child to praise him or herself from within.
- I can see that you are working hard on that.
- You must feel proud of yourself.
- Tell me about that picture.
- You are getting better every time.
- What an improvement!
- You really are sticking with that.
- You’ll get it; keep trying.
- If I were you, I would feel pretty great about this!
People who are emotionally healthy are often able to use “self talk” to encourage themselves from within or to give themselves constructive criticism. We think to ourselves, “Wow, I am really proud of this! I worked hard and I did a great job!” Or we can think, “Boy, I screwed that up. But I think if I did this or this next time, it would work out better. I think I can do a better job next time.”
Healthy portions of both praise and encouragement help your child establish a healthy self esteem. Think about how you are using praise and encouragement and see if it fits your child’s age and stage of development. In our next blog, we will talk about some helpful steps for using encouragement wisely.