Most parents want their children to have a sense of right and wrong—but how can we teach them those lessons without blurring the important difference between doing something bad and being a bad person?
Criticize the Behavior, Not the Child
Sometime in childhood, even the most model child will do something that might be hurtful, annoying, damaging or destructive. The message to that child should always separate what he or she has done from who he or she is.
"Kids have to know that we love them unconditionally," says Deb Wood, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife. "We can dislike their behavior intensely but we shouldn't make them feel like their behavior has made us love them less."
Wood recommends "time outs" and activities to correct wrong behaviors (for example, helping to wipe up spilled milk, making apologies, saving up to make financial amends) over spanking and the silent treatment. "Spanking is an invasion of personal space and the silent treatment feels like an absolute withdrawal of affection, both of which can lead to shame and poor self esteem."
Don't Teach Poor Esteem
"Most little kids are born with an innate feeling of worthiness. If you watch them playing you can tell they think they're pretty, funny and cute," says Wood.
According to Wood, children "unlearn" that self esteem through interactions, not just with school yard bullies, but also with loving parents. "Sometimes it's overt verbal messages, such as 'How stupid are you?' or being called names," says Wood. "Other times it's a child coming home to a room he or she cleaned early in the day that's been 're-cleaned' by mom. What sort of message does that send?"
Competency is a key ingredient to healthy self esteem. The goal of having children participate in housekeeping activities should be for the child to develop a sense of control—not the perfectionist pursuit of the best-made bed
Parents can help children develop positive self-esteem by taking particular notice of a child's individual strengths and talents. Learn to appreciate the child you have rather than the one you always wanted. If you hoped for another Babe Ruth but got another Jerry Seinfeld, your child will have better self esteem if you encourage him to repeat a joke rather than criticize his lack of athletic ability.
On the other hand, even kids with few skills should be encouraged to participate in athletic activities. Sports can help teach children life skills such as how to communicate, commit and collaborate, if the coaches and parents are supportive.
How Your EAP Benefit Can Help
Parenting is never easy but having someone to talk to about your concerns can help. Your EAP benefit includes free and confidential professional support services—24 hours a day, 365 days per year by calling 1.800.383.1908. Your benefit also includes free, face-to-face counseling with master's- and doctorate-level professionals.
"There's no limit to the number of times you can call," says Wood. "If your child is particularly challenging, you might want to send him or her for a time out and give us a call every time you need help deciding what the consequence for a specific behavior should be."
Web-Based Work & Life Resources:
Free, Unlimited Access
Your EAP benefit also includes unlimited access to a wealth of web-based work & life resources at the VITAL WorkLife website. You'll find helpful articles on increasing self esteem in children and teens, including:
- Four Tips to Building Self Esteem in Children Building Positive Self Esteem
- Building Self Esteem
- Self Esteem and School Performance
- Sports Lift Self Esteem in Young Athletes
- Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers: Ten Tips for Building Resilience in Children and Teens
- To find these articles, go to www.vitalworklife.com, click on member login and enter your user name and password.
- On the page that comes up, in the left hand column, click on the "Your Work & Life Resources" button.
- In the shaded area at the top of the screen, click on the pull down menu that says "Parenting," and pull down to, "Parenting." Explore the articles under the category "Children's Self Esteem"
Pathways to Well Being Call VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908