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COMPRESSED - One on one high 5The self-esteem movement has gotten a bad reputation lately. But what is self-esteem, exactly? Merriam Webster offers this simple definition:

  1. a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities
  2. a confidence and satisfaction in oneself

This succinct definition sounds positive in every way. Of course, every parent wants his child to benefit from healthy self-esteem!

But, true self-esteem can only be derived from hard work, overcoming obstacles and measurable achievement. Children simply can’t develop a healthy sense of self-worth without these critical ingredients.

In fact, an inflated sense of self, based on nothing but empty praise, eventually creates an emotional house of cards, discontent and negative behavior. For example, in his groundbreaking article entitled “Rethinking Self-Esteem,” Roy Baumeister, Professor of Social Psychology at Florida State University, theorized that criminals and drug abusers actually have higher self-esteem than the general population.

The key is the word healthy.

Most parents have encountered a child who has been overly praised and has an overwhelming sense of his own importance. This is the child who sulks when he doesn’t win a game or throws a tantrum when he is asked to do something contrary to his own wishes. This is not a pleasant child to have around!

Constant praise puts the child in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, well-meaning parents may be setting their child up for eventual failure by telling him he’s the best, the smartest or the most talented all of the time.

Balance is essential. There are four important rules that every parent should know, in order to help children develop a healthy self-esteem.

When everyone “wins,” everyone loses. According to Jim Taylor, author of the book Your Kids Are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You, by constantly praising kids, parents are doing more harm than good. “We’re lowering the bar for them,” Taylor says. “…confidence comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again.”

The concept of the participation trophy is a perfect example of a well-intentioned concept gone awry.

Climb every mountain… Learning something new can be hard, but exhilarating. Challenging kids to try a new skill provides an important life lesson, encouraging them to test their limits and work hard for success.

 Try, try, again! Never underestimate the power of failure. Allowing kids to fail occasionally is difficult as a parent, but necessary. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

The power of unconditional love is real. Allowing children the freedom to choose, to try, to fail, and to ultimately succeed will all create a child with a healthy sense of self. Providing a safe harbor where this can occur, where a child feels safe, protected and loved unconditionally will give him the strength and courage to conquer the world.

Helping a child develop a healthy self-esteem is one of a parent’s most important jobs! As the child grows and faces increasingly complex challenges, that sense of self-worth will go far in helping him rise to any occasion for a lifetime of success.

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