How to nurture children’s healthy self-esteem


Back in February I was asked by the local newspaper to share my thoughts about coping with defeat  (Page 76).
I addressed our personality as being big part of how we deal with setbacks, and being parenting author, I inevitably referred to childhood experience. 

This part of my reflections wasn’t published though, so I’m presenting it now.

Probably this article on how famous and successful people deal with rejection prompted me to do so: 

The crucial aspect of our parenting efforts to support children in learning from defeat is to help them develop healthy self esteem.
The best chance for the children to become well balanced people with stable self esteem is to experience ‘good enough care’. Good enough parents, as Manfred Kets de Vries points out in his book “The Leader on The Couch” give their children three things: support, age-appropriate frustration, and proper holding environment for their emotional reactions.

Good enough parents are also realistic about their children’s talents and abilities. It’s a common knowledge that children will grow into insecure adults with low self-esteem, when in childhood they experienced neglect. But it is not that obvious, that constant and unrealistic positive feedback might also be problematic. Excessive praise of the child might be an expression of exaggerated expectations. It nurtures grandiosity and superiority on the surface, but underneath the person becomes self doubting and very vulnerable to criticism. We cannot expect from our children to be perfect; by telling them constantly how perfect they are, we are making them anxious when they struggle or encounter challenges. They perceive defeats as major disappointment caused to their parents. 

It’s great and important when we are supportive to our children, offer them positive feedback, show our delight and admiration. But at the same time, we need to make sure that we do it with respect to their own uniqueness, to the reality of their skills and talents, and without a hidden expectation for them to be always the best.

To provide proper holding environment for emotions means helping children express, understand and process their own emotions. Children know and feel that in face of the defeat, they can turn to us and will be listened to, contained and we will help them to make sense of their experience.
To be able to stay calm and provide this safe space for the child, we need to be in touch with our own emotional reactions to child’s defeat and separate it from child’s feelings.
Separating our own relationship to defeat and allowing children to discover their own experience and coping mechanisms is important – when we see our children lose out, face a defeat – we can quickly impose our reactions without waiting for theirs – making space for them to decide how they face it, we might even learn from them.

First published on: xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.psyche-care.com