I'm Not Giving my Child his Self-Esteem. Now What?

Self-esteem cannot be given.  It comes from within.

I’m sure that is a controversial statement, which hundreds of doctoral theses’ have been founded on.  But think just simply about the language.

You can have confidence in someone.  Can you give them confidence?  You can have faith in someone.  Can you give them faith in themselves?  You can admire someone.  Can you give them self-admiration?  You cannot self-esteem someone.  How could you possibly give self-esteem to someone?

Further, are you responsible for your child’s self esteem?  Yes and No.  Constant criticism, lack of attention, and no encouragement or support can definitely undermine one’s early image of oneself.  Yet, look at the individuals who rise above such poor and neglectful upbringings to go on to develop a wonderful sense of self, doing amazing things with their lives.  Who gave them their self-esteem?  No one.

Self-esteem comes from within.

So called “helicopter parents” do their children no favors by handling all of the arrangements for their children, nor all the personal conflicts they stand to encounter not only in their adult lives but in the current life of their childhood.  They are admirable parents, only wanting the best and being the best for their child.  But, how do they even know what that is?  Personalities abound. 

What if their child doesn’t want what they want?  What if they cannot live up to the expectations of these parents? 

In the book, How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, one mother that was interviewed said, “I need to put out champion-caliber children who are at the top of their field, making an impact and changing the world in some way.  I am responsible for creating the individual who is capable of that.  They are my legacy to the world.” Is she serious?  I can only wonder what her timeline for that is?

And what if they don’t live up?

Raising children is a long and arduous process.  A three year old is not the same as an 11 year old.  Situations will come up when you least expect.  Even though you may try, you are not always going to be there at those moments.  More importantly, Johnnie is not the same as Susie, even if they came from the same mom and dad.  (I happen to know this for a fact.)  Some are smarter. (Susie)  Some are more athletic. (Johnnie).  Just kidding.  Some are introverted.  Some are aloof. 

Cannot all of these have either high or low self-esteem?  Of course.

Now What can parents do?

Guidance is the best word for it.  Encouragement.  Support, both logistical and emotional.  At least two times in my daughter Carolina’s life, I intervened in a situation that was causing her strain and stress, one in preschool and the other in 7th grade.  For one, I even requested to move her to a different class.  Both times, the teacher assured me that he was very aware of the situation and encouraged me to let Carolina handle the situation herself, which she seemed quite capable of doing.  Carolina even writes about the latter situation in her sister blog, ‘My Kid is a Bully’ found at www.nowwhatcarolinaduncan.com.  What sage advice.  I guided her and offered coping strategies, but ultimately she had to get through it herself.  She went on to be able to handle equally stressful situations-audition rejections, difficult college roommates (and great ones, too), difficult bosses and a move across the country for a career that would test the self-esteem of even the most confident young person.  I am proud of her. 

Did I give that self-esteem to her?  No. Does she have good self-esteem?  Most of the time.

It was gained by her own accomplishments, her own efforts, her own life experiences, and her own failures that she was allowed to have and move on from.

Don’t constantly tell your child how great they are.  Let them find out for themselves.