How to Create Real Self-Esteem

We all know parents like this:

  • “Brianna, you sing like an angel!”
      • (Brianna’s singing makes dogs run for cover and neighbors stick chopsticks in their ears.)
  • “Sally, you’re so smart!  You’re going to go to Harvard!”
      • (Sally couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted her the “c” and the “a”.)
  • “Billy, you played so well in the ball game!”
      • (Billy rode the bench until the seventh inning, then he struck out, he threw the ball over the first baseman’s head, and he lost a ground ball in the sun.)

When you ask these parents why they do this, they say:

  • “I just want Brianna to feel good about herself.”
  • “Sally needs to have a good self image.”
  • “I don’t want Billy to have low self-esteem.”

Now, this is a very strange concept, at least to me:  you help a child “feel good about herself” by lying to her.

And don’t kid yourself.  The child knows you’re lying.  Billy knows he didn’t play well.  Sally sees that the other kids don’t struggle like she does.  If you think kids don’t can’t see these things, you just don’t know children.

Let’s Define Our Terms

I think it comes down to figuring out what the typical parent means when she says “I want Mary to have high self-esteem.”  Should Mary think she can do no wrong?  That every one knows she’s great?

No, what Mom really wants is for Mary to have confidence in her abilities, and not be afraid to try new things.  Mary’s experiences should give her this self-confidence.  And there’s no secret to building confidence in children or adults.  Hell, the military has been doing it for centuries!

Simply challenge the kid.  Give him problems and obstacles to overcome, where failure is a real possibility.  But not so hard that only a “super kid” can succeed.  But Billy has to work at succeeding.  No participation awards.  Don’t cheer him for simply trying.  Push him to really work and do well.  All of a sudden, he’s hitting the cutoff man every time.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Keep feeding a child these types of challenges, and before you know it you’ll have a young man or woman who knows he or she can overcome obstacles, ’cause it’s been done!

As a wise man once said, “If you want to esteem yourself, do something worthy of esteem.”


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