jessica tholmer
March 07, 2013 7:00 am

The concept of “self-esteem” is a seriously in-depth conversation, but it is also one that seems to fall by the wayside among human beings. I am not a parent, I will start this conversation off by saying that much, but I do have an ever-deepening interest in the concept of confidence within children, for it affects us so very much as adults.

I am an extremely confident young woman, and I was an extremely confident young girl, and I was an extremely confident child. I joke that it is because I am a Leo, but to be honest, I am not entirely sure where my confidence all stems from. The other characteristic I identify with, almost as strongly as my pride of self, is my realism. Yes, I think I am awesome, but no, I do not think I am awesome at everything. Can I sing and dance? Nah, but I still will when the good jams come on, let’s be real. Can I draw you a picture? Nope. Do I believe I could run for President of the United States of America, and even potentially succeed in earning that title? ABsolutely not.

Why is that? Because my voice is not strong enough to sing you a song. Because I have natural rhythm, but I cannot dance like a Fly Girl, nor can I swing my hips in a salsa dance way, nor can I even pretend like I know where my feet or hands go, ever. Because I just cannot draw, I just cannot do it. Because I am not smart enough to be President of the United States of America, not to mention I do not have the money, the drive, or the interest in doing so.

My generation was told that we could do anything we want to do, that we could be anything that we would like to be. Is there danger in this mindset, though? Is there danger in fluffing your children up to believe that they are the best of the best? No one is the best of the best, not in all aspects of life. It is impossible, not to mention undesirable, to dominate at everything life has to hand you.

There are mathematical thinkers, and there are artists, and sometimes someone can dip into both, but oftentimes, you will not excel at everything. As a parent, is it damaging to not let your child’s feelings get hurt from time to time, by telling them that they are not always going to be great at everything they do?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article, written by Sue Shellenbarger, that explores the idea of “overpraising a child.” The balance of making sure your child knows he or she is incredible, and important, and successful and keeping your child humble seems to be a real struggle for many parents. How does one successfully encourage confidence in a young person without pumping up their ego to the point of arrogance? Can that balance even be controlled?

So much thought goes into raising a little human being, and as aforementioned, I do not have children so I admittedly do not know the right answer here, nor do I believe in there ever being a “right” or “wrong” answer to most of life’s problems. However, I can speak from my personal experiences, and reflect on what I believe went right and what went wrong in my own personal life.

Psychologists are recently discovering that it is “good” for kids to have low self-esteem, preferably temporarily, at some point in their lives because it builds a realistic vision of themselves, which allows for resilience.

And ahh, this I do believe: life is all about resilience.

I am confident, and realistic, and very self-aware, which I always claim, but only because it is very true. I never pretended to be something I was not. I did not play sports in school, not ever, because I knew that I was not good at playing sports. I knew I was not interested in playing sports. I knew in a million years, a sport was not going to enhance my life in any way. But guess what? I had to play sports from time to time in PE classes, and it was a struggle, and I was awful, and there are few more embarrassing things in life than having to run around a diamond shaped baseball field, unsure of the rules of the game, in front of a bunch of your peers, some of whom you likely have a crush on (cause that was always true for me). My mother, never a day in her life, made me feel like I needed to play sports, nor did she falsely praise my successes in sports. She did not cut me down–here is the balance part–she simply did not fluff me up. She would thank me for going to PE class, congratulate me on making it through another day, and simply let me focus on something I was genuinely interested in, like my literature homework.

The WSJ article explores some variety in praising your children accurately, mostly focusing on verbage and the act of being literal. For instance, when a child does really well on a test, appropriate praise would be something along the lines of, “It is so great seeing how hard you worked studying, because it paid off! Congratulations!” and not something like, “You are the best! Your grade is off the charts!”

Your child’s grade is probably not off the charts, so using that kind of language can be deceiving as life goes on, and everything–school, social lives, etc–only become more challenging. If a child realizes that time and effort pays off, great! If a child believes he or she is better than everyone else, it only allows for some negative social situations in the likely-very-near future, because no one is better than everyone else.

That is something we should all believe: no one is better than everyone else.

What do you think? Is praising a child excessively a good idea, or do you believe it is a version of distorted reality than can damage us in the long run? We would love to hear your thoughts, and your experiences!

Featured image via shutterstock.com

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