MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 15th, 2013, 0 Comments

When Rethinking Self-Esteem, Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

By definition self-esteem is our overall opinion of ourselves. The post “How Low Can You Go” (click here to read this post) discussed how for decades this trait was way oversold – especially to parents and teachers. Just as big, however, is the problem of what was sold.

Self-esteem was sold as something that could be bestowed upon kids simply by encouraging them to feel good about themselves. We were told to give kids lots of praise, while tough competition and negative feedback were to be avoided because they could chip away at kids’ supply of self-esteem.

We focused on praising, protecting, and preserving all in the name of self-esteem. Why? Because we were convinced that if kids had it, they could achieve and if they didn’t, they couldn’t.

We’ve learned a few things since then. We now know that self-esteem can’t be bestowed on kids – that simply encouraging kids to feel good about themselves, doesn’t work. And we’ve learned that rather than causing kids to achieve, it’s actually the other way around: Kids who’ve developed real skills that allow them to perform competently in areas that are important to them have the highest self-esteem.

So self-esteem can’t accomplish all that we’d been told it could and hoped it would. It has been oversold and poorly understood. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Discussions about developing self-esteem are often centered on children because it begins to form in childhood. But adults too can improve their self-esteem, and this asset is worth developing at any age. Kids (and adults) who have healthy self-esteems are more assertive in expressing their ideas and opinions. They’re more certain of their ability to make decisions. They’re less likely to be overly critical of themselves. And they’re more resilient.

The most powerful way to grow self-esteem is through lots of opportunities to see the connection between success and persistent effort. But how do we help our kids find the confidence to step out of their comfort zones and take the risks required to start developing new skills?

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has some answers. Her superb TED Talk shares an easy intervention with possibility for big benefits. The talk is chock-full of fascinating research findings on how our body language shapes who we are as well as how we’re perceived and judged by others.

You can click here to view the talk. Be sure to watch to the very end because that’s the most convincing part of all. And I’d love to hear your thoughts when you’re done.

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