Here’s the main deal: Because life is a series of small, incremental steps, attempts, and tries – self-esteem is built up or torn down the same way. As parents we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that it’s the big events that can get our children ahead in the esteem curve. Or, if our kids could just learn the big lessons in life, then that would help them too. While the big events in life are important, as well as the lessons, children are better acquainted with normal and daily experiences – and it is our response to them that seems to matter.
The Act of Noticing should be a more publicized parenting skill. A teenager emerges from her room with a glimmer of lipstick, eye shadow, and her hair done a certain way. She is clearly proud of how she put herself together. Noticing her visually and verbally is important but giving attention to what she did, not what we think (read: evaluate) necessarily. Don’t get me wrong, children need to hear us tell them we’re proud of them, think they are pretty, handsome, and smart. But it is so important to focus attention to their effort – what they came up with, their selections, what they’re proud of. Or maybe it’s a young child coming up to a parent showing them a picture they drew, or pointing to something they made with Lego’s. Again, the child is definitely proud… of themselves. So say it, “You are proud of that! I see how you used, etc.” These are the everyday things.
Another parenting response that builds self-esteem would be our Tone. Right now I can hear most of us groaning because we know our tone is sometimes almost candle-blowing. God gave us auditory parts of the brain that can not only pick up the nuance of tone but the intention behind it. Planning ahead can help us as parents. Before you walk in the door of the house, what do you expect and what will your normal tone be? Focus your intention on how glad you are to see your family and they will sense your intention and be lifted up by it. We must do this in the normal course of the day because when it is time for instruction or guidance with our kids our tone is all the more important. If we have practiced a kind tone in the day to day parts then we’ll be in a better position to express kindness in our tone when it is time to instruct or discipline.
A final idea of building self-esteem in children would be Belief. Believe in them. Children feel believed in when parents notice and care about their routine feelings throughout the week. Kids experience a wide range of emotions and thoughts throughout their day both from teachers, other students, their environment, and family situations. Noticing these feelings gives children an adult response to something they only have a child or adolescent response to. Our words can bring clarity to what children feel inside but can’t express.
To sum up, we parents have within ourselves all that we need to build up our children’s self-esteem. Everything within them is desiring, waiting, and needing what only we are in a unique position to offer. Later this week I’ll talk about our self-esteem as parents.