I like to break a mental sweat every now and then (–White Goodman, Dodgeball), so when I read that my gal Stephanie Sprenger over at Mommy, For Real, along with Jessica of School of Smock, Sarah of Left Brain Buddha, Deb of Urban Moo Cow, and Lauren of Omnimom were doing this Around the World in Six Weeks Parenting Blog Carnival thang, I wanted the in.
Then I was like, what is a Blog Carnival?
I’m going to let Stephanie explain because she uses words gooder than I:
This Blog Carnival is inspired by Christine Gross-Loh’s new book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us. It’s a fantastic read for parents, educators, and anyone interested in American parenting today…We’re calling it a “blog carnival” because blog carnivals are collections of blog posts, written by different bloggers, all focused on the same topic.
Today’s question, is too much self-esteem harmful to kids?, lends itself nicely to my tendency to over-analyze everything in life. For instance, I have little kids; my youngest is one in April, her sister is four, and big brother will soon be a whole hand plus one finger. I don’t think they can have ENOUGH self-esteem right now. I want them immersed in security and confidence now so they grow up believing they are capable, intelligent, beautiful.
On the flip side, if we’re talking about older kids, namely teenagers, I can’t stand me a cocky 16-year-old, and “too much self-esteem” can easily translate into arrogance.
So I guess the short answer is yes, I do believe too much self-esteem can be harmful to kids, specifically as they grow older and begin to form relationships with other people. How can parents lay the foundation for self-assurance, but pepper life with doses of reality as to achieve that delicate balance so that our children don’t morph into overbearing a-holes?
Therein lies the challenge: how do parents instill confidence, but keep the kid’s ego in check?
I’ve no clue. But I’m going to throw out some idears for a recipe of confidence with a touch humility:
* Let the kid fail. Many life lessons are learned when we get up after we’ve fallen. Help them up, but don’t stand in the way of the tumble.
* Celebrate the successes. But not too much. So the kid learned to tie his shoes? Fantastic, but don’t buy him a pony. He got an A on his AP History exam? Swell! A pat on the back and a “good job!” should do the trick. I feel like if we over-celebrate everything, the really big deals won’t matter as much.
* Support your child despite your own interests and opinions. My mom was never an athlete, but she cheered on my brother and me at all of our games and meets. Children feel better about themselves and their accomplishments when their parents take an active role in their hobbies. That is not official nor have I researched it, but it’s common sense, right?
* Be honest. If the kid can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but wants to try out for the lead in the musical, c’mon. Which leads me to…
* Re-direct them. I use this tactic all the time with my kids and students; focus on their talents and strengths. That’s not to say write them off if they’re not the BEST at something, but if talent lies elsewhere, why not hone it? “Honey, I’ve seen you dance and you’re fantastic! Are you sure you wouldn’t rather bust a move in the school musical instead?”
* Keep them humble by contrast. The best way to instill a sense of appreciation in kids is to show them how fortunate they are. Together, volunteer time tending to those in need: feed the hungry, donate clothes to house fire victims, etc. If your daughter is a fantastic athlete, get her involved coaching younger players. If your son is an outstanding student, he might make a great tutor. Once your kid sees that not everyone else has their stuff or talents, they’ll begin to understand how very lucky they are. Humility is a beautiful thing.
* Challenge them. Don’t be afraid to let your kid be the small fish in the big pond every now and again. Stiff competition and stepping outside of her comfort zone will only make her better.
As a parent and a teacher, I have seen the benefits of a child’s positive self-esteem first-hand. It makes sense that confidence begets a fuller life, and isn’t that what we all want for our children: to experience all that life has to offer without feeling confined by insecurities? However, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but it’s usually pretty easy to spot: just look for the pop-collared Abercrombie and Fitch shirt and a golf club atop a self-imposed pedestal. Oh, I’m sorry. Flashback to my ex…
WAIT! Before you go...
For other (more professional) thoughts on the subject of self-esteem, check out:
Jessica @ School of Smock: “I Can’t Stop Praising My Kid!”: An Unfortunate Update
Sarah @ Left Brain Buddha: Self-Esteem Isn’t Selfish
Stephanie @ Mommy, For Real: Is Your Child in the Gifted Program?
Lauren @ Omnimom: I’d Say He’s Average
Deb@ Which is More Important, Intelligence or Resilience?
Originally published in July, 2013
Photo Copyright: felixtm
#1 is everything. This life is all about getting up and moving on from failure and the earlier we start learning the “how-to” the easier we can navigate this journey. Great post Stephanie.
You know it, Vernette! Thanks, lady! P.S. Is that your bro in your Facebook pic? He’s a handsome lad whoever he is 😉
The pic I have now is not my brother, he’s my BFF and yes he is handsome 🙂
*Resisting the urge to play matchmaker*
Kate Hall says
Great points! I like your ideas. I’m pretty similar in thought. 🙂
Well you know what they say, Kate: great minds think alike 😉
Jumpin' Jack Flash says
You should have a blog orgy about “how much should I give to my kid and how much should I make him earn.” As a parent, I want to provide for my kids…give them a great life. However, I don’t want them to turn into spoiled little snots that think they are entitled to everything without sweating for it. Where is the balance? Should they help pay for groceries? Should they pay for college? Should they have to rake the grass clippings in order to get the ice cream sundae?
You said orgy.
Also, great idea for a post. I’ll ask people who know more than I to discuss. We’ll get back to you 😉
Sara Ann says
You bring up an interesting point! I feel like sometimes it’s in a child’s nature to always want more. No matter what we give (or choose not to give) our children, I think the lesson is in being GRATEFUL for it.
Before we go to bed at night, my son and I have a conversation about at least three things we’re grateful for (also emphasizing the value of non-materialist things, like phone calls to Grandma). I’m trying to help him take notice of the things he HAS instead of focusing on the things he WANTS and understanding there are people who are less fortunate.
And I think it’s in a parent’s nature (and definitely a GRANDparent’s nature!) to want to GIVE more. There is definitely a balance to achieve, and it sounds like you’re on the right path with your before-bed talks! Love that idea, by the way!! Thanks, Sara Ann!
Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha says
Love your suggestions, Stephanie! I’m glad you’re joining us today! And I totally agree that in these early years with our kids, we can’t praise them enough! Their positive self-concept is essential to thriving.
And as for the arrogant teenagers, as much as it may look like excessive self-esteem, as a high school teacher, history major, and amateur psychologist :), I think the cockiness, the a-hole behavior likely stems from insecurity and self-doubt. I think kids with a strong self-concept also know how to treat others kindly.
Sarah, I think you’re absolutely right about the arrogance masking insecurities. But if a kid is truly comfortable in his own skin, we can hopefully avoid the ‘tude. Much easier said than done, eh?!
“Help them up but don’t stand in the way of the tumble.” Love, love, love this line. Perfection and amen!
Thanks, Beth!! Or as my kids would say, “Fanks, Beff!” 😉
Sara Ann says
After working several years in a daycare, I realized some parents have their roles confused with that of a bodyguard. While it’s important to protect our children, you’re right Steph, there are times we have to LET THEM FAIL. Let them know they can feel pain and have vulnerability… but also let them know that’s OK! It’s how they learn! Don’t beat them up, the outside world will do enough of that. Instead, offer guidance. I won’t be able to sit in the desk next to him when he goes to kindergarten, walk through the middle school hallways with him, don’t plan on being allowed to go to college with him… so my mission is to prepare him to have the confidence to be an excellent decisions maker and enough sense to follow through it.
“Don’t beat them up, the outside world will do enough of that.”
Ain’t that the sad truth?!
great post and totally agree…hubby says I shouldn’t, but we race around the backyard sometimes Dino loses…that’s part of life…losing makes you appreciate winning more. YES…celebrate the successes, I don’t want Dino coming up to me expecting candy or prizes for every little success…LOL…like some kids we see.
I do love that he says nice things about other people and gives encouragement without expecting anything in return
I love that your kid gives others encouragement, and I attribute that to you and your husband for the way you encourage him. My kids are pretty good at saying “Great job, Mom!” if I beat them at a game, so we must be doing something right. RIGHT?! 😉
Janine Huldie says
You said a mouthful here and I too dated the Abercrombie jerk in the past. So can totally relate on that one for sure, lol!!
Ugh. Abercrombie. Ugh.
Dani Ryan says
I love this!
I over-praise as well. So much so that the first time my daughter “peeped” on the potty, I screamed so loud I’m pretty sure I scarred the poor kid for life.
I’ve been reading a lot about this whole “too much self-esteem” thing lately, and it’s really making me think. Like you, I’m all about boosting my daughter in ever way that I can right now because she’s 2. But then I realize that once she goes to school, she’s going to be in for a real surprise when her teacher doesn’t throw a street party every time she does what she’s asked, you know? So, this is definitely something I have to work on… 🙂
I don’t know; I think there is something to be said for praising a little kid, especially if that’s what works for him/her. My son is an absolute people-pleaser, and nothing makes him happier in life than following the rules and making his teacher/parents/etc. happy! But you’re right about when they go to school and there isn’t a parade every time they answer a question correctly! hahaha!!!
Yep, love it. Keep on preaching sister! I was nodding my head violently about the arrogant 16 year old thing. Teens just seem to get more and more obnoxious these days. I think it has something to do with the “everyone gets a trophy, win or lose” philosophy. That’s just plain dumb. What exactly does that teach? Anywho, I’m getting off my soapbox now!
I have a soft spot for the teens because that’s who I teach, but there has been a definite shift in the way that they regard themselves as part of the whole. Entitlement is ridonkulous and their “I don’t have to because someone else will” nonchalance is through the roof. But, as someone mentioned above, some of their attitude is a result of insecurities that most teens struggle with. I know I did!
I love this Steph and I completely agree. I once wrote a post about how I truly did want the best for my children and was willing to do things for them when they are passionate about something. My daughter likes to sing so we bought her a karaoke machine. Things of that nature. But I feel like my most important role as a mother is to guide my children so they aren’t annoying. I seriously think that life has got to be so much more enjoyable if you are not an annoying person!
I think another piece of this is the kind of person who is so insecure that he comes across as obnoxious and arrogant because he doesn’t want to let his guard down, ya know? Like, constantly acting out and begging for praise by means of his attitude and actions. I know someone like that and, on one hand, it’s sad; on the other, ANNOYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jessica Smock says
I’m so glad you joined us, Stephanie! Isn’t this a fascinating topic for an educator and parent to tackle? When I was teaching, this was my #1 pet peeve by far. Do we seriously need to give trophies, certificates, ceremonies for basically everything a kid does? And don’t get me started when my school get rid of the “honor roll”. (Having an honor roll was supposed to make other kids feel bad… ) But then I became a parent and all that principled stand about the danger of overpraising kids went out the window. Do you see that parent clapping and squealing when her son identifies the color “green” on the playground? Yup, that’s me.
Jessica, I feel like I’m part of the smart girls’ club today! Thank YOU, Dr. Smock 😉
The Honor Roll thing is ridiculous. I understand not everyone learns the same, and if that’s the case, maybe have a different set of criteria for different learners. But to do away with that form of public and permanent praise is unfair and setting the bar extremely low for American education, which, I believe is a topic we’re tackling soon 😉
Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0 says
Oh, man, does this mean I have to let him play soccer if he wants to? Ugh.
That’s one of my biggest fears, too, so I feel ya. But I think the right answer is yes. The better answer is have your husband take him to the games 😉
I think at preschool age, they are still discovering themselves, along with the world around them. This is an age whereby their self esteem needs nurturing, and helping them gain confidence is part of celebrating their individuality.
Once they are able to understand more and comprehend human relationships, that is when we have to teach them about humility.
Whoever said this parenting business is easy ought to be left with a bunch of preschoolers for about a week.
RIGHT?! I had a conversation with my gal pal the other day and she admitted that raising kids isn’t the hardest thing she’s ever done. I had no idea what to say because I struggle, man!!!
Lauren Apfel says
Nice list! And I agree with your distinction by age. Toddlers are developing their senses of self and learning so much so quickly, they do require a different kind of parental interaction in this respect. The tricky part is knowing when – and how – to change tactics. Hopefully it will happen naturally, seamlessly, but inertia is a strong force and habits can set fairly early (well, this was my experience with my first kid at least!).
You are absolutely correct, Lauren! I can only hope my crazy ass knows when to switch gears 😉 Thanks for reading!
Jill Pinnella Corso says
Yeah… I have no experience or knowledge but here’s my opinion. I suspect that most a*hole teens suffer from deeply hidden insecurities, rather than too much self esteem. …but then there are those spoiled jags with their own speedboats. But the lesson there is don’t spoil your kids. As you say, a pat on the back should do the trick.
I totally agree with your analysis, even if you don’t (yet) have experience with kiddos 😉
Mom Rants and Comfy Pants says
All great points Steph, as always. It definitely IS a fine line. We live in a culture of participation ribbons and trophies for just trying out. As someone with much older children, I can see where this leads to kids wanting an award for just getting out of bed. Now that Mason is heading to high school in a few weeks, I am going to back to work (I was home while he was in middle school). He said to me, I can’t wait until I can get a job and start putting some money away for college expenses. Guess that means I’m on the right track.
I’d say you are more than just on the right track!!! My husband worries about financing college all the time; if you have any tricks up your sleeve, feel free to share! And much luck heading back to the workforce!! I’m kinda sad because I don’t think I’ll “see” as much of you…maybe you should reconsider 😉
Stephanie @ Mommy, for real. says
I loooove this! Oh wait am I being a hypocrite by praising you excessively. Shit. I mean- great effort! No, wait, I really did love it! You make such great points, seriously, and you also cracked me up with the reference to your ex and the comment about, “This isn’t official, nor have I researched it.” Ha! I knew your voice would be perfect for the “carnival.” You have way more common sense than many parents, and your wisdom is both witty and practical. And I’m SO sorry the internet ate your comment on my post. That A-hole.
Deb @ Urban Moo Cow says
I think all of you who are teachers really get this more than the rest of us. To contrast your own experience with what kids today are expecting and feeling must be a monumental task.
It’s interesting that you separated the little kids from the big kids/teens. I agree that arrogance and entitlement are some of my biggest pet peeves. Then again, does all of that START in early childhood? I don’t know…
Lisa @ The Golden Spoons says
I think these are fantastic tips!!! I agree that it is totally a delicate balance. These are all thing sI try to do and I think/hope they will work to achieve that balance.
Yes! and also: yes, yes, yes, and YES!
I write about this all the time (and I really hope my kids don’t turn into arrogant a-holes, because then I’m SUCH a fraud!). Your kids are gifted? I will DELIBERATELY post on Facebook that my kids’ report cards were “meh.” Joking aside, though, there’s a very big disconnect between self-esteem and self-reliance. You can praise out the wazoo and give them self-esteem the size of Kansas, but that won’t give them self-reliance. In fact, it takes it away.
Denise, of Mean Moms Rule
Oh man this is a tough topic. And I have to say I mostly feel like I fail at this self-esteem thing because I can not bring myself to buy into this “praise them for everything” business. I like to think it’s tough love, but maybe I’m the asshole. Here’s the thing, any research (or spending more than 6 minutes with a kid) will tell you that kids are inherently self centered for a looooong time. It’s just how they’re wired. So it seems funny to me that we focus so much on building their self esteem when they’re whole existence and world view is self focused. Let me tell you, my 9.5 year old thinks he’s the shit at pretty much everything. His ability to link all conversations back to him is Olympic medal worthy. This kid doesn’t need help with self esteem, he needs help with humility. Now is the because I spent his whole life praising his abilty to take in oxygen? No. It’s just how he is. I guess I think there are few things that are universal. All parents have to look at THEIR kid and see which side of the equation needs to be balanced out. For us, it’s not the esteem, it’s the humility.
Stephanie Jankowski says
Vicky, I about choked on my coffee when I read: His ability to link all conversations back to him is Olympic medal worthy.
I say that about my HUSBAND all the time! And so now I wonder if it’s more to do with males than kids.
Just kidding, guys!
Probably not, ladies…
First of all– I love the title! It’s perfect. Such great points here from the importance of gratitude to not over-celebrating every little thing. I get really irritated when hear friends praising their kids for the most basic civilized behavior . . . an 8-year-old need not a parade in his honor for remembering to say thank you. That’s the kind of stuff I mean.
Oh now you start out all silly and not smartish sounding. But then we see the real you. You can’t hide from us forever little smart Stephanie who lives in that blondish head and who wears the same clothes everyday. We see you. You are right on, and I think gave the most concise response to this piece. You chewed it up into nice little bite size pieces for all the dumb heads. Thank you. You are RIGHT ON about all of it. Bravissimo!
Stephanie Jankowski says
Favorite comment of all time right here. Mostly because you said dumb heads, but I sure do appreciate your kind words, too 😉
Abby @ Just a Girl and Her Blog says
LOVE THIS. You are so dead on with your tips! When I was teaching, I definitely ran across kids on both ends of this spectrum, and oh how I hope and pray that we are able to strike a balance in our home. I look forward to meeting you at the OV Bloggers event tonight! See you then!
Stephanie Jankowski says
OH yay!!!!! A real life blogging pal!! See you tonight, where I probably forget to “present” my card in a creative way and use the excuse, “I’m crazy exhausted and it totally slipped my mind” as a scapegoat 😉
I have a hard time writing off arrogant behavior as based on insecurities and leaving it at that. Obnoxious, arrogant behavior is also a reflection of bad manners and inconsideration of others. I don’t care how insecure a kid is, talking to me with an arrogant, entitled tone will only get a “can you say that again in a nicer way, I don’t respond to people who talk to me like that”, and that is it. One of the disadvantages of exploring the “why’s” behind behavior is that we often let the reason explain the behavior and leave it at that, not holding them accountable for the resulting behavior simply because there is a reason. Yes, they may be obnoxious out of insecurity, but it’s still not OK to talk like that, and if they continue, the world will continue to respond to them in ways that will feed that insecurity, and they will never take over responsibility for changing because we are sending them the message that they are too insecure and “fragile” for us to expect anything better. Self esteem is earned, not given, and it’s earned through interacting with the world in ways that induce responses from others that we are looking for. If we continue to try to give kids their self esteem/confidence, they will never learn how to get that as a result of how they interact with the world. They will never learn how to generate their own power, instead relying on the environment to provide them with power through acceptance, kind words, etc. If we stopped giving feedback and instead challenged kids to give themselves their own feedback in the context of the rest of the world, I think we would be having a very different conversation.
Sorry, the concept of self esteem is a pet peeve of mine… I’ve been a psychotherapist for 25 years and I’ve seen the damage done in the name of “self-esteem”.