Last week we took Josiah to the park. Funny enough, one of the things that Josiah loves doing the most at the park is walking on the wooden/plastic barrier around the playground equipment. He likes doing that more than playing on the equipment itself. He does really well walking around the playground. He will walk for several feet and then fall off and get back up and try again. One of the times when he fell he said, “Oh bummer! I fell off. It’s OK though, I can try again.”
The importance of that moment hit me hard. He could have gotten frustrated. He could have cried. He could have yelled out that he couldn’t do it and simply moved on to doing something else. He could have asked me to hold his hand while he did it and and used me as a crutch. But he didn’t. He acknowledged that he’d failed to complete the task at hand, but he didn’t get discouraged. He had enough faith in himself that he knew with a little more effort he could do it.
Not all kids have that. Heck, not all adults have that. Self-esteem, or self-worth, is very important. A healthy self-esteem is what we all strive for and what we all want for our kids. We want our kids to feel like they can do whatever they want to do if they put their mind to it. We want them to have good friends (and eventually spouses) that build them up, not tear them down.
How do we try and raise children’s self-esteem? Well there are a few ways:
We’ve created numerous anti-bully laws and rules. The goal of this is to keep kids from having to face daily harassment by kids that think they are better than others. These laws were created to protect children from name-calling and physical harassment and to punish the person doing it. Now don’t get me wrong, there should be rules and laws protecting children from the type of crazy bullying — border lining harassment — that we’ve seen in the past few years.
BUT, I do think that children should be more informed on the fact that their self-worth does not come from what other people think. Children (and adults) need to know that success is not measured by the standards of rude and hurtful people. They need to know that most of these children (and adults) say and do those things because of some other circumstance that is out of the control of others. For example, a child that is treated poorly at home or bullied at home, will most likely bully others. Some children will seek negative attention by bullying because it is better than no attention at all. Both of these circumstances are completely out of the control of the child being bullied. Yes, there should be laws and rules protecting the innocent, but there should also be education to help the innocent stand up for themselves.
We’ve also come up with the idea that there are no losers. Is your kid playing soccer or another sport? Well many teams, especially for those 10 and under are eliminating keeping score. Why? Because we are all winners. My response to that? No. We are not all winners. We can not be the best at everything. As adults, some of us get promotions, some of us don’t. Some get fired from one job, but excel at another. Some people are excellent waitresses and some people are not. It should be the same with sports. Children need to learn that we can’t always win them all. Sometimes losing means that someone was better at the sport than the other team. Sometimes it means the winning team practiced more. Sports is a good time to teach children that just because we lose at a game or at a sporting event it doesn’t mean we are failures. Losing one game doesn’t mean we are losers at life. It just means we lost the game. I understand not keeping score at a sporting event where 3-5 year olds are playing because they are learning the fundamentals of the game. After that though, valuable lessons can be learned from keeping score. Let me tell you, I frequently beat Josiah playing Yahtzee or some other game we play. But you know what? He isn’t knocked down by that. He plays again and many times he’ll beat me. Winning will definitely boost your self-esteem, but losing one game shouldn’t take anything away from it.
People are encouraged not to discipline their children. Spanking is considered harmful to a child’s mental health and be sure not to leave your child in time out for more than the one minute per year of age rule. Be sure not to speak to sternly to them or give them too many rules because they may fall under pressure. Although I’m definitely not getting into deep particulars here, spanking and beating a child are two different things. It is a good tool of discipline, but not the only tool. Josiah gets spanked for direct disobedience and disrespect. Never for general acting up and never in anger. We always talk to him before and after his is spanked about why he was spanked and we also reassure him that him getting disciplined doesn’t affect how we feel about him. In our “tool belt” we also take TV away, make him go to bed early, take toys away, and ground him from spending the night at his grandparents on the weekend (grounding doesn’t happen very often). All of these forms of discipline have a time and place. Along with negative discipline for negative behavior we also provide positive discipline for positive behavior. When Josiah does well at the grocery store or does something the first time we ask him to, we give him some form of an “atta boy”. We take notice when he acts appropriately. We want to encourage him to act the way he should to receive positive feedback rather than making bad choices and receiving negative feedback. In school, I also praise him when he accomplishes something he hasn’t done before.
Encouragement shouldn’t be overdone, but it is necessary for a child to feel good about themselves. Children should know that their parents are behind them and that as parents we have faith in them and think highly of them. If children see that have worth/esteem in our eyes, it will be easier for them to see it themselves. Protecting our children from failure (keeping them in a padded room), will not protect them from having a negative self-esteem. Like I said, if we build them up (without making them pompous) than it will be that much harder for a child to tear them down. After all, if the hero (parents) think you can do it, than the villain of the story has no power.
One of the greatest things we can do as parents to help our children’s self-esteem is to show them who they are through the eyes of the Creator. God, the creator, created us. God does not make mistakes. Because of Christ’s death we were adopted into the family of God. God is the father, the great King in our lives. If we are children of the king, what does that make us? The Bible says if God is for us, who can be against us? These are powerful lessons that we should teach our children. It doesn’t matter what other people think of me. What matters is what God thinks of me. We are not to live for other people. Yes, I want my family and friends to think highly of me, but not as importantly as God thinking highly of me. Adults struggle their whole lives trying to master this concept when they should have been learning it as children. The true hero of the battles our children face is Christ, just as the true villain is not bratty kids, but the devil.
When we teach our children these important principles, we don’t have to worry as much about one bombed baseball game or one bully tearing their self-worth down. If their foundation is solid their self-worth will stand.
*Note: There are always exceptions to this rule, but I’m speaking about the majority. Children, teens, and adults with mental illness do not apply to this and should be treated differently.*