I’m a big proponent of boosting Self-Worth; self-esteem, not so much. Read Self-Worth Versus Self-Esteem to better understand my reasons.
Think of Self-Worth as being a pound cake, and self-esteem as being a dusting of powdered sugar on the top. The powdered sugar is a different kind of sweetness, but its presence is not necessary for overall cake enjoyment. A high sense of Self-Worth is what you want your kids to develop. They can dust it with self-esteem boosters, but solidifying Self-Worth is where it’s at.
Children with high Self-Worth are more likely to make healthy decisions despite peer pressure. We all want that. The earlier they learn to recognize their basic Self-Worth, and focus less on self-esteem, the more confident they’ll become as a person.
Here’s what you can do to impress upon your kids how valuable they are:
- Provide unconditional love. (“I’ll love you, no matter what.”)
- Create opportunities to succeed so they’ll learn to take positive risks.
- Treat failures as what they are – tools to assess how a situation played out, and an opportunity to create a different outcome.
Your kids deserve your love. That’s a given. They don’t have to earn it. They don’t have to pass a test to show they’re worthy of it. They deserve your love because they are who they are. Today is probably the best day to remind them of that.
Bonus: If you love your children no matter what, they will learn to love themselves, no matter what. Tell them you love them because of who they are, not because of what they do. Good or bad grades, win or lose the game, musically inclined or tin ear, you love them regardless, and forever, because of who they are. They need to know how lucky you are to have them in your life.
Learning is every kid’s default mode. If you leave a child alone in the room with a paperclip, they will figure out what a paperclip is capable of. Without a paperclip, they will invent a way to pass the time. That’s why it’s so easy to create opportunities for your child to take positive risks. Every time your child masters something, they feel competent and worthy.
If you have Littles, think of all they’ve achieved already. In a few short years, they’ve learned to crawl, walk, talk, eat, think, run, dress, share, count, read – it’s amazing, really. Every moment is a chance for them to try to master something else. They come fully equipped with self-confidence and Self-Worth… until someone starts comparing them to other kids.
How about those Middles? They’ve learned how to conduct themselves in public, organize, do sports, use computers, consider what they read, calculate, process, analyze, interpret, and create. They have come so far, and have so much to be proud of. It’s absurd for any of them to have low self-esteem, yet nearly all of them do.
You can help rescue your Middles by comparing where they are now to where they were this time last year, and the year before. Drive that lesson home by reminding them how much you love who they are, no matter what.
And then, there are those Teens, the top of the adolescent food chain. Most of them are slogging through deep puddles of self-esteem breakers and boosters because they are living vicariously on the internet. Their self-concept is defined by social media’s selfies, likes, follows, and comments… the things that make life temporarily bearable or constantly miserable. Their view of themselves is dictated by how they feel they measure up to their peers. That puts their self-esteem on a neverending rollercoaster ride, and increases the suicide rate in our children.
Teens rarely look at how far they’ve come, or recognize the huge amounts of learning they’ve achieved. They don’t appreciate the skills they’ve honed in their hobbies and extracurricular interests because they aren’t noted on report cards; and if it isn’t noted on a report card, its progress feels irrelevant.
Your job is to remind them about their accomplishments with a simple walk down Memory Lane. They are so much more sophisticated and grown than they were three years ago (that’s just a random number I picked). A couple of photographs and some reminiscing, interlaced with “I love who you are so much!” will bolster their self-concept, and reinforce their Self-Worth. And as a bonus, have them imagine where they will be in three years if they keep progressing the way they have been.
Failures = Learning Opportunities
No one wants her child to fail, but let’s keep it in perspective. When that staggering baby plops down on its diaper-padded bottom, no one says, “Ooh, he failed at walking!” Nevertheless, at the moment in time, that’s exactly what has happened.
It’s no big deal. Baby will get up and stagger around again, sometimes with help, and sometimes without. Failure is part of life. It’s why we learn to improve things, and how we learn to cope. Being judgy about failure is an unfortunate mistake. It’s time to reframe our thinking to see failure as a tool you can use to assess how a situation played out, and as an opportunity to create a different outcome.
Let’s take a failed test as an example. Instead of talking about the grade, first review the adequacy of the test preparation. Your student can identify if enough time was spent studying, or whether there’s another issue at play. (I also suggest having this conversation during the summer with anyone who took final exams, no matter how they did. Removed from the situation, kids will be able to objectively look at their preparation process, and figure out how to do it better next year.)
My friend’s son was flunking college. She had a discussion with him about reducing his partying, only to find out that he didn’t party at all, and that he spent a lot of time trying to study. The fact that he wasn’t retaining anything led to a doctor’s visit, and the discovery that his memory was being impacted by undiagnosed Lyme disease. He ended up withdrawing from school to mend, but resumed the following semester, and eventually received his degree with flying colors. Thank goodness his low grades raised a warning flag.
Secondly, look for distractions that may hinder retention. Congrats if you find some. Without that failed test, you might not ever have discovered which distraction was hampering your student’s learning. Now you can intervene with a plan.
Every failure is a teachable moment. Take advantage of them!
Why Boost Your Kids’ Self-Worth
Anxiety and depression in our children is increasing across the board, while taking positive risks is decreasing, as is forming positive relationship connections. Something has to be done.
Self-esteem boosters are temporary at best, and may feel fake at worst. Propping up your kids with applause for everything they do is like building a foundation on a house of cards. Leaving their emotions at the mercy of adolescents on social media is like having no foundation at all.
If you want to understand what’s happening to them, watch the movie, “The Social Dilemma.” Then, watch it again together as a family. Its scary message changed our lives for the better. No doubt it will affect your understanding of what your kids are experiencing online.
Enhancing Self-Worth, on the other hand, has a long term effect because it’s based on children recognizing and appreciating the strides they’ve made, regardless of how the world tries to influence them. It’s about understanding that they are valuable and loveable just because of who they are.
You can significantly improve your child’s sense of Self-Worth by:
- identifying unconditional love for them, and then providing it
- reminding them of positive risks they’ve taken in the past, and encouraging them to do it again
- reframing failure as an opportunity to create a different outcome
… and finally, by modeling the behaviors you want them to embrace.
In the process, you may rediscover your own Self-Worth. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to model for your beloved children?