By Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Lamperti Counseling & Consultation
Somewhat of a hobby of mine is the study of the Founding Fathers of this country, for we have much to learn from the way they learned. Whether they were walking many miles for a book to read, or copying the 110 Rules of Civility because they themselves were less than civil, we can learn a lot from their fortitude.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “self-esteem is certainly not a virtue, for it ends up esteeming only itself.” So how is it that the culture, probably mostly spurred on by the pioneers in my profession, we have come to hold up this concept of self-esteem as being the key to success?
Unfortunately, what those in my profession have done is say that “IF the adults so this, THEN the child will feel this. Too often, this looks like, “IF I issue a consequence (dare I say, “punishment”) for X behavior, THEN, the child’s self-esteem will suffer.” Or, “IF I use these words to praise him, THEN the child’s self-esteem will soar.” Too much, or too little of this or that and you will have destroyed your child’s “self-esteem.” Or even worse, the child’s rotten, awful “other” parent will destroy their self-esteem, so I need to interceded for the sake of my child’s innermost self.
Well, let me just say, that children are MUCH more “able” than we give them credit for. Since everyone seems so afraid of damaging the child’s “self-esteem” we rob the child of important life lessons and set them up with a mindset that the step-sisters of Cinderella had. Cinderella wasn’t spared of the tough stuff and neither was Pollyanna, and look how they turned out.
For anyone who might be feeling a bit angry about what I am saying, relax. I’m not talking about abuse. Some “discipline” is abusive and children need to be protected from abuse. Expecting a 3 ½ year old to use the potty and taking away their pull up and being consistent about it, could look like a tragedy. It’s not a tragedy and children will rise up to the occasion when boundaries are clear. Expecting a 1 ½ year old to drink their drink at the table, in your lap or in a chair, rather than crawl around the floor with a ”bubba” between their teeth or a sippy cup that gets tossed, picked up, tossed, picked up…is not abuse and will not damage their self-esteem.
But fine, let’s say that it is a necessary ingredient for success, and let’s say that it is a measure of how a person values themselves. How can we foster an environment where children gain a good, positive self-esteem, not too low and not too high?
Babies – Praise, praise, praise!!! Snuggle, comfort, love! Be calm, consistent and meet their needs. Begin to assist even babies in learning to meet their own needs in time. In time and learning their cues, adapt your own behavior to accommodate for their new skills. The number of parents who refer to their 2, 3 and even 4 year olds as “the baby” always takes me by surprise.
Toddlers – Develop expectations. Teach them that you, the parent, are the structure and are in control. Seeing 2 and 3 year olds crawling around the floor with a bottle hanging out of their mouth, or cheerios all over the place is a clear indication of the next state, when a child won’t sit at the table with the family for dinner, or any meal for that matter.
Young Children – Don’t go overboard with praise for every new accomplishment. You could get away with that, and it was even helpful in earlier states, but your child needs to gain a sense now of their own abilities, rather than the reaction that they can get from you. After the first couple of times of putting toys away, this should no longer get a “yippee-hooray!” from you, for if they require such praise for this task, the next task, toilet training, will also require a huge song and dance from you. The great big awesome feeling needs to come from what they accomplished, rather than what they made you do.
Elementary Age – Help your children to become observers. Help them to see good in others and qualities and skills in others that they think are cool…EVEN if they can‘t do it themselves and EVEN if the other person who can do it is a peer. How many people who you see complimenting others seem to have a poor self-esteem? Teach children that if others can do it, they can too, and they can learn something from those that can. Teach them if they can’t do it, they have another gift, maybe yet undiscovered, that they CAN do just as well.
Middle School Age – This is when school work becomes more challenging even for very good students. It is a time to assist children with time management. They, in fact, are likely to need to spend more time completing school work, and they will need more time to complete the daily chores that you have assigned for them;-). Yes, in fact they can vacuum out the car, and they actually can learn to make scrambled eggs and a piece of toast.
High School Age – Is so much about beginning to assist our children in following their dreams. While they are building on the skills you have fostered in them over the last 12-14 years, it is now time to encourage them to dream and begin to build their foundation for when they graduate from your full-time care.
George Washington realized that he had some very bad tendencies. There was no DSM diagnosis for him and certainly no psychotropic meds, there was a wealth of rules of civility and decent behavior that he “regularly reminded himself of.”
My recent studies come from, Our Country’s Founders, A book of Advice for Young People, edited, with commentary, by William J. Bennett.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
Lamperti Counseling & Consultation
Cape Cod Moms