Sunday, February 5, 2012

Self-worth and courage (elementary age)

Full question: What are the things that you feel best instilled feelings of self-worth in your elementary-aged kids (about ages 6-12)? What gave them courage to try new or hard things?

Common themes and key principles:

Real self-esteem vs. fake "self-esteem building."
"Self esteem is an oft misunderstood concept.  We sometimes think we can build it by over-generous compliments and flattery, which kids see through and then mistrust us.  The real source of self esteem is 1) knowing who we are (children of an all-powerful Father) and 2) earning our own respect by doing hard things and staying true to our core beliefs."

Modeling God's love through parental love.
"I think their feelings of self worth came from spending time with family where they knew they were loved and developed an understanding that they were children of God"

Allowing kids to experience success and disappointment through developing talents.
"Each child learned that practice makes hard things become easier than he/she thought at first."

Being supportive by attending performances and helping kids excel by buying them supplies, hosting events, working on projects together.
"As I think back on it, it is the parents' attendance that counts most for a child as they demonstrate what they enjoy and what they can do."

Teaching and training kids to learn to work and to do housework and other skills well.
"We found that learning to work and developing skills was vital to their feelings of self-worth." "you can't go back and do a task over to your standards after they are out of sight.  Learning how to do things...is important."

Giving kids one-on-one time with a parent.
"This was a special time before bed with the kids individually and their dad." "I tried to let each of them know that I considered them special by...spending at least a little one on one time with them each week."

Communicating to your kids that you love them and also following through regarding discipline.
"We feel that learning to be obedient develops a sense of self-worth...because it requires self-mastery.  Children can be trained but it requires time and energy by the parent to follow through.  The key to discipline in my estimation is to 'hold the line pleasantly.'  The child must know the standard of behavior while being treated with love and respect." "Whether it was a broken window or a broken fender somehow we found it in ourselves to put our arms around the child first and embrace the damage later."

Modeling confidence and excitement about life.
"We were always very up-beat and happy about life, encouraging them to experience things life had to offer." "I think kids notice how we handle things in our lives."


Tamara (and Lewis)
Of course, we always taught them that they were children of God and so they had so much value in the Lord's eyes - and ours.  We always let them know that we loved them - no matter what. I think just because they knew who they really were and how much we loved them, this gave them basic confidence and self-worth. It helped put things in perspective of what is truly of worth in this life. We were not negative people either.  We were always very up-beat and happy about life, encouraging them to experience things life had to offer.  Our children were all very involved in sports, which we feel gave them some good experiences.  They felt joy in succeeding, making new friends, learning new skills, and working as a team; but, they also felt discouragement in losing or not making the team.  I think it's important that they were allowed to experience disappointment because that prepares them for bigger disappoints in life.  But they realized they were okay in spite of any failures they faced - because they knew they were loved and had at least tried something new and different. We always tried to focus on the positive, letting them know the important thing is trying.  My husband had coded things he would always say to the kids as they participated in sports, such as, HU (which meant head up - don't be discouraged) and EE (which meant extra effort - do your best).  Because we had so much love (and fun) as a family - he would also tell them - Remember, you're a Smith [name changed].  That meant a lot to them because they knew that meant we would always love them and, in turn, they needed to act accordingly.


Barbara (and Daniel)
The only thing I can think of about creating self-esteem was that we gave each of our children lessons to develop a talent, i.e., piano, violin, cello, or dance.  Each child learned that practice makes hard things become easier than he/she thought at first.  Also, playing with a group or ensemble helped our children develop self-esteem.  Playing in a group is fun because a big sound is made and a child sees the benefit of working hard.

I also believe that working with a child so that he knows what is expected in his weekly chores creates pride in jobs well done and helps build self-esteem.


Jane (and Samuel)
I believe that teaching kids how to do household tasks and helping them and praising their efforts, and expressing how important it is to the family that they learn to do hard things because the family needs them, helped them feel worthwhile. That means you can't go back and do a task over to your standards after they are out of sight.  Learning how to do things and doing them is important.


Lillian
My children were all a little shy.  I tried to let each of them know that I considered them special by praising the things they did and spending at least a little one on one time with them each week.  When things were hard I would tell them "I know you can do this. Just do your best."  I think as they have grown, they have discovered that they are much stronger than they ever thought they could be. 


Samantha and Thomas
Self esteem is an oft misunderstood concept.  We sometimes think we can build it by over-generous compliments and flattery, which kids see through and then mistrust us.  The real source of self esteem is 1) knowing who we are (children of an all-powerful Father) and 2) earning our own respect by doing hard things and staying true to our core beliefs.  

There's a stunningly insightful book by Ester Rasband on this topic called "Confronting The Myth of Self Esteem" that stands all of the pop theories of self worth on their heads and completely changed our perspective.

God is the real source of personal power and worth.  The scriptures are clear about the importance of humility and trust in God's power, not our own.  Most prophets in the scriptures felt overwhelming weakness when called, but God did not flatter them. ("Moses, you're really great!") Instead, He said, "Thou art my son, and I have important work for you."

Helping kids understand they have an "Audience of One" (our Heavenly Father) and all that matters is pleasing Him, takes all the pressure off, while still leaving high goals to be accomplished, namely becoming like Him.

Self esteem is tied to work.  Three key components for parents:
       1) expectations to work, reach up, take a challenge;
       2) encouragement along the way; and
       3) delight in the accomplishment of overcoming hard 
           things whether they "won" or not.

We talked a lot about (and tried to model) "getting involved" and making things better.  Student government, extra curricular activites, sports and community service were lauded as worthwhile and FUN, with not too much concern about having to win.  We tried to teach joy comes from doing!  That's what we "applauded" most--pitching in.


Brianne (and Spencer)
Finding one thing that each child does well - their niche - seems to be important.  We gave them lots of opportunities to try different things.  They got recognition for things they tried - like reflections contests and such.  Family came to performances and we all thought they did great.  Grand parents were important.

My daughter says knowing that if she got in over her head in new things that her family was there to support her and help if they could is what helped her.  We helped them with school projects, took them to the store, etc., so they could feel proud of their projects.

My oldest two were bullied around 12-13. It was tough, but it seemed being really nice and kind to siblings left them ill prepared for bullies. They survived and are empathetic wonderful people.  It's important to know that your family loves you, you are important, you matter, and that family is not too busy to listen and be there for you.

I think kids notice how we handle things in our lives. How do they see us react to situations, how much do we worry about what other people think?


Anonymous
I think the self-esteem issue is overblown.  I believe that teaching our children that they are children of God, and telling and showing them that we loved them was the most important thing.

Today it seems that there is so much “false” praise where it is inappropriate.  I think it is unrealistic for children to believe they are the best at everything if it’s not true.  They need to be praised according to what they actually do, in an honest way.  Children need to learn reality, and that they might not be the best at everything, and at the same time, that they don’t have to be the best at everything, and that has no bearing on who they are, or how smart or cute, or good they are.  It’s okay to not be the best at everything.  Sometimes in our earlier parenting years, I probably put too much pressure on my young children to be the best in school or piano, or whatever.  I just wanted them to do their best, and wanted them to know that their best was good enough.

It’s hard not to compare your children with others, but in the end, none of it matters.  I never shared with them their own SAT scores that I received at parent/teacher conferences.  I quietly put them away.  I didn’t want them to compare themselves with their friends or their siblings, for two reasons:  the first being that if they scored lower than their friends/siblings, I was afraid that they would think that they were not as smart, and then act accordingly.  The second, if they scored higher, I didn’t want them to think that they were smarter, or better.  One of our children had a disability, and had a natural disadvantage on test scoring.  If he thought that he was not as smart as the other kids, I think he would have given up.

How they feel about themselves should have nothing to do with dance, piano, gymnastics, academics, or sports.  I think their feelings of self worth came from spending time with family where they knew they were loved, and developed an understanding that they were children of God, and that’s all that really counted.


Mary (and Robert)
There were a number of things I think we did but I don't know if they are the things that worked. 

To this day each of our children believes that they are the favorite.  (I have learned this from my in-law children.)  We went to innumerable plays, soccer games, wrestling matches, concerts, etc.  More than anything I think this gave them the knowledge that they were special.  They could please us with anything they did.  As I think back on it, it is the parents' attendance that counts most for a child as they demonstrate what they enjoy and what they can do.

My parents and my husband's parents rarely if ever came to our events.  I didn't think about it at the time (it seemed normal to me) but we were determined to attend as many events as humanly possible.  (My husband went even farther...when a play was running he would go to every performance.)  I believe the hurt of being alone in a room full of parents and children stuck with me even though I didn't notice the pain at the time.  One of our sons and I had a discussion one night after he declared he didn't like living with us anymore and that he didn't like that feeling.  I enumerated all the things we had done for him in the last year: events we had hosted for him, performances we had attended, supplies we had purchased, etc.  To his credit he thoughtfully said, "I think I need to give this some more thought."  And the next morning he was up and washing walls that I had been after him to do for me for some time.

We always encouraged participation in whatever they found interesting.  We weren't able to financially support multiple sports or lessons so we asked them to choose one thing and then we went all out to help.  My husband coached soccer and I drove endless miles for activities.  The year our daughter got to go to Europe my husband got up every morning with her to do an early morning paper route.  It's a bonding that is still dear to both of them.

Some of these experiences were incidents that go beyond the elementary ages, but they still apply.

There are two things that I am most pleased with our performance as parents and, young or older, these have aided our kids' self-worth and courage most.  One, there was a tradition in our house of "cuddle."  So named by little children and carried on into their later years.  This was a special time before bed with the kids individually and their dad.  My husband simply laid on their bed with his arms around them and they talked.  Mostly he listened.  I wasn't part of these sessions in person but I know these were precious times.  Grown up kids have still asked for a cuddle with Dad.  I remember seeing our oldest son after his mission (and perhaps even after his marriage) come to his dad and sit on his lap as they talked for a few minutes about concerns he had.  I was so grateful to my husband for his diligence in cuddling his kids.  They knew they could come to him on any occasion for encouragement and support.  There in their dad's arms they were the best, the brightest, the most successful.  I still see this today as they sit up until the wee hours talking to Dad when they come to visit.

The second thing is our reaction to disaster.  Whether it was a broken window or a broken fender somehow we found it in ourselves to put our arms around the child first and embrace the damage later.  We communicated to them that things are not nearly as important to us as they are.  Punishments for misbehavior were still in order though and they took them with dignity.  I think that our initial reaction to a problem made the difference. 

Finally, we told them we loved them.  No qualifications just love.  And then just as surely as they knew we loved them they were able to know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love them too.  We laughed together, we played together and we worshiped together.  Mostly we just loved each other without reservation.


Karen and Lance
We took an interest in any event that our children were involved in whether it be a sporting event, play, or something going on at school or church.  We attended most of our children's activities consistently.  We had Family Home Evenings where we got our children involved in the lesson, music, treats, prayers, activities, and conducting experiences. 


Marsha and Richard
I agree that these are important years as children come to appreciate that they have worth and can make a contribution.  The doctrine taught that they are children of a Heavenly Father who loves them and desires to bless them is such a significant doctrine.  A child who learns this at a young age and truly believes it will have a sense of self-worth. It helps them develop trust in the Lord and in themselves and they are more anxious to follow the path he has lovingly provided for them. We feel that parents should do their best to reflect that same love.

We focused our lives around our children through those years.  I was able to be home with them and was aware of their comings and goings and, hopefully, our efforts to serve and care for them let them know how dearly we valued them, how important they were to us and how very much they were loved. Structuring their lives and even providing discipline and leadership helped them appreciate our commitment to them.  By spending our time providing for them, teaching them, listening to them and sharing our lives with them, I think they knew they were of value.

We found that learning to work and developing skills was vital to their feelings of self-worth.  Each had responsibilities around the house and was depended upon to fulfill them.  They each contributed to the greater good of the family and found satisfaction in a “job well done”.  We expected them to do well in their schoolwork since that was their “job”.  We were blessed with an oldest son who valued learning and was a natural leader, who set a great example for them.  Consequently, as they entered the schools, a good reputation preceded them and they wanted to measure up to the expectations.

We feel that learning to be obedient develops a sense of self-worth also because it requires self-mastery.  Children can be trained but it requires time and energy by the parent to follow through.  The key to discipline in my estimation is to “hold the line pleasantly”.  The child must know the standard of behavior while being treated with love and respect.  Controlling emotions and being pleasant while still standing firm is a challenge and we learned most of this in later years. 

[The following was posted here but also applies to this question:]

How important a parent's feedback is to establishing a child's self esteem.  What we say to and about our children influences how they see themselves.  An active child can be viewed either positively or negatively.  I am concerned about how much negative dialogue comes from young mothers as they bemoan their challenges.  I'm grateful that I was a mother in a society that valued good mothering and was doing something I always wanted to do.  I was living the American dream by having a family and being a mother.  Mothers today are constantly made aware of their sacrifices rather than their contributions.  I love to see a young mother who relishes motherhood and realizes what a precious time of life it is.  Now that those years are past, I miss them.  I was the center of their universe during those years.

I once heard a social worker in our ward say, "If a child feels lovable and capable, he is free to be the best he can be."  That has stayed with me through the years.  We must be careful as we discipline to help a child retain his sense of self worth and just help him deal with problems.  We may know that a child is "lovable and capable" but he must "feel" that he is.  Sometimes mothers think their job is to protect their children from problems and to an extent it is.  I came to realize that my job was to teach them how to deal with problems, since that's the job of life.

Next week's question:
What did you do when young siblings (about ages 2-6) argued or fought?

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2 comments:

  1. I like the comments. I will try harder to spend more one on one time with each of my kids. It seems like when you have 3 (and I am sure more) it is hard to get one on one time each week. I bet it is worth the effort.

    I would like to hear if any of the kids had poor self esteems when they were younger and how they were able to improve these self esteems. My 9 year old is beautiful, smart and talented (already plays the piano wonderfully and has received several awards in art) but sometimes says that nobody likes her or that she is stupid. She isn't but how do I convince her?

    I attended an awards assembly last Monday. My kids both were so happy to see me there and to see them get their awards. It is amazing how much they wanted me there.

    Lastly, I think snack time after school is very important. I get the most insight into my kids if I am there in the room paying attention to them while they eat their snack. I will try to keep that in mind and not be busy with anythings else right after school.

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    Replies
    1. I read once about the importance of trying to just spend 20 minutes one-on-one, doing whatever the kid wants to do. I've been trying to do that lately as often as I can and have liked it.

      About your question, I guess one thing I took from this post is that self-esteem isn't something you can "convince" your kid about. Maybe you just spending the time to listen to her while she talks about how she feels (even the negative stuff), and continuing to give her opportunities to work and grow, will help her more than you think.

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