You can't win.
First parents were told we needed to do everything possible to build self-esteem in our children. In fact, it just might be one of the most important jobs we had.
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Now recent research suggests our kids can have too much self-esteem. In studies of college students it was found those with very high self-esteem tended to be aggressive when they felt criticized or insulted.
I guess that makes sense. When people think too highly of themselves they're probably going to get a bit testy if we suggest they aren't as important, competent, or wise as they believe.
So how, then, do we parents build self-esteem in our children (which still seems like a good idea) without creating self-satisfied little egomaniacs?
The trick seems to be helping kids develop a realistic appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses, their potentials and limitations, their successes and failures, while also recognizing their own basic worth as human beings despite any of the above.
Actually, that's quite a trick, but here are a few basic ideas that can help:
• Give consistent and frequent positive messages about who our children are. These need to be verbal, "I love you," and physical, a hug, a kiss, even a handshake. And if we can find times to add "I like you," or perhaps "I like who you're growing up to be," then all the better.
• Praise effort first. Before we recognize talents or accomplishments, we want to highlight the fact that they took the risk of trying.
• Praise talents or accomplishments, but don't overdo it.
• Acknowledge weaknesses, limits, failures; don't gloss over them (which sometimes gives kids the idea they are something to be ashamed of). Again, praise their effort and, if possible, help them learn from the experience.
• Confront our children when we see their egos getting away from them. We don't want to come down on them too hard, but a simple reminder that today's accomplishment was preceded by yesterday's failure, and will probably be followed by tomorrow's failure as well, can help them keep their balance.