Thursday, October 16, 2014

Self-Esteem: What really makes a difference?

Welcome to this weeks Thursday Theorist.  Whereas in the first week we focused on a big name in psychology (Eric Erickson) and the second week we tackled Temperament by looking at Birth Order and The Four Temperaments, this week we are going to focus on just one question -

What makes a difference in 
a kid's developing self-esteem?

This is a huge area of research in the last 40-50 years so I am going to just strip it down to the research that is most applicable to our lives as parents.  I am not going to talk about the research on why positive self-esteem is good - just understand that having good self-esteem is really important.   The podcast on this topic airs tomorrow at This Inspired Life,  so if you want a good Q and A on the topic Kristen leads me through an hour long discussion on the topic and I do talk there about the positive associations with self-esteem.  But while you are here let's get down to the research on what you can DO to help your child develop a positive self-esteem...

1. Help them to Actually Be Successful.  Confidence comes from success, not just praise.  We can build our kids confidence by setting our children up to succeed whenever possible.  This is especially important with younger kids.  Don't reward them for failure or mediocrity.  Give them manageable chores and tasks to do around the house (find guidance here).  Hold them accountable.  Give them encouragement but not praise.  Give the simplest tasks to the smallest children and as they show competence then add to their responsibility.

2. Accept Failure and Move On.   It is better to let them fail at something than to always be holding them back because you want them to be successful.
We do want them to have some understanding of their own limitations, and kids are bound to make mistakes! So help them to develop realistic notions of self.   They have very poorly developed frontal lobes in their brain and naturally lack perspective.  If you have made it a habit of helping them to be successful at tasks, then you will have laid the foundation for a self-esteem that can handle a reality check once in a while.

When the kids fail at something, correct rather than criticize, and be specific about the problem.

Rather than pointing out how stupid they were, point out the problem with the specific THING that they did.   Don't say "you failed because you are lazy"...  Rather say "you failed because sat on the couch watching Dancing with the Stars instead of studying last night".

Point to the problem in the actions, 
not the problem in the person. 

3. Show interest in their talents.  Albert Bandura was the social psychologist who really made the idea of self-efficacy popular.  Self-efficacy refers to how we feel about who we think we are.  He said we have general self-efficacy and then we can also have specialized self-efficacy which would relate to some perceived skill in some area.  For instance if we think we are horrible at art, but don't value art, then that assessment isn't harmful.  If however, we really value art and really want to be an artist, the fact that we think our art is horrible can really harm our self-esteem.

Add think of that in terms of a parent's or family's value system. How do you show that you value your child's gifts?   If a parent really values sports, and a child had two left feet, then the parent needs to find a way to communicate that they value the gifts the child does have.  Find those things which the child is both interested in and at which s/he is skilled and show an interest.

4. The Daddy-Daughter Relationship.  The Father-Daughter relationship is very important through life, but particularly as they enter into the 5th and 6th stages of Erikson's development (identity vs confusion and intimacy vs isolation - back to the Erikson link here). Whether the family is intact or divorced doesn't make as much of a difference when dads are engaged and present in their child's life.  Dad's often pull away from their daughters when those teens enter high school.  This pulling away or avoidance of their daughter can really stagnate their daughter's development.  The Father-Daughter relationship gives her a standard by which she is to be valued.  If the father doesn't appear to value her, this can be damaging to her own self-perceptions of her worth.  If he is uninterested in her, if they don't have any shared interests, if he is more consumed with 'guy stuff' then with 'her stuff' she notices and it makes a difference.  Daughters who didn't have access to both parents, in a constructive manner, were reported to have lower self-esteem.

A few retrospective studies (American Journal of Psychology 2012; Journal of Family Psychology 2012) found relationships between the father - daughter relationship and the daughter's stress and life satisfaction as an adult.   One study found that the relationships with the father may even influence the daughter's reaction to stress (found in cortisol levels) as an adult.  Daughters who reported a good relationship with their fathers were less stressed.  Another study round that the women with high self-esteem and greater life-satisfaction were also those who reported their dads were more involved in their lives growing up.

This relationship also shapes a daughter's expectations of how she is to be treated.  When they don't have a healthy relationship with their father, then they easily fall into a pattern of seeking intimacy but not trusting men.  This is because our first attachment patterns teach us how we should express and receive love, and we are to communicate, and even how we are to argue.  There is nothing sexual about this.  It is about being recognized as a unique person with inherent dignity.  When a daughter knows that her father recognizes her as such she is set up for success.

5. Give love, affection, and complements freely.  When your kids know you are crazy about them that makes all the difference in their lives.  Tell them you love them.  Hug them even when they think they are too old to be hugged.  Be specific about the things you love about them:  "I love your generous spirit - you bring so much joy to everyone when you share.".  Tell them there is nothing they could ever do that would make you stop loving them.

You should love the child, celebrate their accomplishments and correct their mistakes.  

Set your kids up to succeed.
When they fail, point to the action not their personhood.
Show interest in their talents & interests.
Support a constructive relationship between both parents & child.
Let your kids know you love them. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...