There is a big difference about a child feeling good about themselves (self-esteem) and true self-worth. To make a child feel good is quite simple, just give them everything they want. But remember, your job as a parent is not to make your child happy. In fact, being unhappy once in a while can be healthy for a child. When things are not going so well is when people start to evaluate and think for themselves. Realize you must be motivated to enact change in your life. When a child is unhappy because something went wrong, she is motivated to try something different. (That is why the principal of the parenting discipline, “do not move forward with event B until A happens” works well in changing the behavior of a child).
1) Do not repeat your instructions.
2) Expect the best from them.
3) Do not praise them.
4) Encourage them.
Feeling good is always a temporary emotion which can change from moment to moment. A child can feel good about receiving something she wants, but true self-worth is established when the child earns what she wants. When a child works hard to achieve something and can truly call it their own they think, I did that myself; that is how self-worth is developed.
Doing things for your child robs them of self-worth building opportunities; it is also not respectful of them. Expecting the best from them is respectful. Dr. Kevin Leman in his book, Have a New Kid by Friday lists five guidelines relative to respecting your children:
1) Never do for them what they can and should do for themselves.
Dr. Kevin Leman describes the three pillars of self-worth in any person: Acceptance, Belonging, Competence.
1) Acceptance – A parent’s unconditional acceptance of your child means everything in her development. Use sincere words and positive body language to send the correct message; focus on communicating, “I believe in you, go for it, I know you can do it” rather than, “you are lazy, that is a stupid idea.” If children don’t find unconditional acceptance in your home from you, they will find it from their peers; they will also begin to talk less to you, or perhaps not at all. Think about this! You can always extend unconditional love and acceptance by choosing the right words and body language; if you do, she will be less likely to seek acceptance elsewhere.
2) Belonging – Every child needs the feelings of belonging somewhere. Will it be in your home or in her peer group? Work on establishing your home as a place to belong. Give each family member a vote in decision making. Listen to and value what others have to say and think. Support each other to become the person they want to be. Set aside family time to do things together. Give everyone an opportunity to discuss their day at dinner time. Say through your words and actions, “We are a family. We belong together.” When there is no sense of belonging, there will be no relationship; without a relationship, your rules, words, and actions mean nothing.
3) Competence – The goal is to empower your child. To empower requires giving your child responsibilities. Your child will not flourish by you doing everything for her. She can only develop true self-worth by doing things for herself. When we as parents set up parameters for children to do projects, learn, and succeed, and when we stand back and let them tackle the project on their own, that’s empowerment. When you allow your child to be competent, they will be competent. And when they fail, let them figure out how to do it differently the next time. As their responsibilities increase, their confidence in their own competence increases; that is how to build an enduring self-worth.
One last tip – Praise isn’t good for kids. That’s because praise links a child’s worth to what she does. It goes back to the pillars of self-worth: Children need to feel unconditional acceptance no matter what they do..…succeed or fail. Instead of praising an accomplishment, encourage your child. Encouragement emphasizes the act and not the person. When you encourage the act, you encourage the child to try something else in that area because of their success.