Sad boyHow to Help a Child Create Higher Self-Esteem

A parent asked me, “How do you help older children to be proud in their achievements, and not to compare to those, who they view, as better than them?” 

There are times in a child’s life when a developmental phase surfaces causing a child to feel unsure about his achievements or status in the peer group.

Even though those feelings were developmentally motivated, they’re still very real. The way you respond to those feelings will either empower him or cause him to react to situations like this in the future.

No pressure, right?

In an online article at Psychology Today, Carrie Goldman writes about her daughter having no one to play with at recess. Goldman includes a piece of wisdom from Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Raising Cain that really got me thinking. Dr. Thompson suggests, “Don’t interview for pain.”

Wow, that hit me hard.

How many of us gauge our child’s well being by the pain they’re experiencing, “Sally was mean to me today!” instead of gauging our child’s well being by the successful management of the pain they’re experiencing, “I told Sally that it hurts my feelings when she’s mean and she said she was sorry!”

Most parents tend to forget that development doesn’t stop at two or three, and that it heavily colors all of our child’s reactions to life experiences. A child’s understanding of emotions, how to manage them, and how to apply that knowledge to relationships is not fully finished growing yet.

The disequilibrium phase of development [the unpleasant state that occurs when new brain development challenges the old way of thinking] can sometimes cause confusion and concern for parents.

For instance, the parent who asked the question that motivated this post has a 9 yr. old. 9 yr. olds can be moody, sullen, self-critical and critical of others. They can become quite upset if ignored by the peer group. And since a 9 yr. old doesn’t have the ‘big picture’ of how friends come and go in life, he believes being friendless will be his lot in life forever! He blames the group, becomes moody, sullen and argues; unconsciously hoping his parents will help him figure this out. However, most of the time parents react to the end result, the arguing, and take away privileges or give a timeout. No instruction on how to mange things like this in the future has occurred.

Thompson went on to suggest that parents stop asking their child, every single day, how their day went.

Think about it, what’s the hidden message in the question, “How was your day today?” The hidden message is, “Did any one upset you or hurt your feelings today, and did you react?” “Did you follow directions or get in trouble today?” You catch my drift here.

Try reframing the question to uncover whether or not your child was successful in applying the life skills needed to manage any issues he or she encountered. That way you’re easily able to decide what, if anything, is missing from your child’s skill set so you can teach it to them.

Ask questions like, “What did you decide about yourself when this happened?” What did you decide about those kids when this happened?” “What did you decide to do instead?” Of course always followed up with, “Sounds like you took care of yourself and your feelings!” and statements like that.

Questions like those send a silent message of empowerment to a child that says, “Yes, mean words are said sometimes, but it’s how you react to them that makes all the difference.”

This line of questioning keeps the lines of communication open so if there’s ever a time when (s)he reacts, instead of responds, they'll have had the experience that you take the time to listen, instead of going straight to punishment. 

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