Self Esteem – Are you Helping or Hindering your Kids?

You know the scenario: You couldn’t keep your mouth shut and warned “little Jane” not to climb too high on the climbing frame as she’s still small and she’ll fall off, but what does she do? Challenges herself to go one step higher. And what happens? She falls off. And what do you do? Dive in with “Oh for XXXX’s sake, look! I told you couldn’t do it you silly girl!”

It’s comments just like this that are going to make your “little Jane” feel a whole lot worse than she already does for “failing” at something she pushed herself to try. Instead of encouraging your “little Jane” with comments like “Oh dear, at least you tried” or “Never mind, try again when you’re a little bigger”, you’ve left her feeling bad, inadequate and doubting herself and her abilities.

I caught myself doing this the other day with my “little Johnny”. It was our reading time and I asked him to fetch a book he’d like to read to me. He came back with a book he could read but one I knew was really pushing his abilities (he’d tried it the week before and we’d ended up with tearful frustration when he couldn’t manage it). Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “Oh that book’s a bit hard still, why don’t you go and get an easier one?”
Little Johnny: “But it’s interesting, I want to read this one”
Me: “It’s a bit too hard for you sweetheart”
Little Johnny: “I want to read this”
(At this point I picked up what I considered a suitable alternative)
Little Johnny: “I don’t want to read that, I want to read this. Please”
Me: “You’ll just end up getting frustrated. Let’s stick to this one”
At which point my “little Johnny” plumbed down on the sofa in a huff and read “my” book with little if any interest. He just wanted to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible.

After he’d finished reading and went off to play, my sister came and sat next to me. Do you know what she said?

My Sister: “Well done! You’ve just taught “little Johnny” that he’ll fail if he reads hard books. Much better if he sticks to nice, easy ones”.

Me: No words but I’m sure you can image. Mouth open, speechless, dumb expression on my face!

At first I was surprised but then thought about it. She was right. Rather than encourage my “little Johnny” to push himself to do something a little harder because I was fearful of having to “cope” with his possible frustration, I didn’t believe in him. I planted seeds of doubt in his mind about his reading skills and had him opt for an easy option. When what I should have done was let him read what interested him and “helped” him with the difficult bits to reduce his frustration. How bad did I feel (good that I’ve got a pretty wise sister though!).

As parents we need let go and try and keep our own fears to ourselves by encouraging our children to challenge themselves and cope with the resulting emotions.

It’s not just the things we say directly to them that count either. Children learn by emulating the adults around them. If they hear you saying positive things or see you reacting in positive ways when you fail, they are more likely to mimic this behaviour. If your “little Johnny or Jane” overhear you talking negatively about them, it’s rapidly going to undermine his or her confidence.  So try and keep your comments and reactions positive. If you really have to discuss or let rip about a negative, do it when you’re sure they’re not around to hear you.

Never do or say anything that you may regret – this includes things said or done in the heat of the moment. Comments such as “you idiot”, “I wish I’d never had kids”, insulting them, making unkind remarks, constantly yelling, nagging or disciplining them will all chip away at their feelings of self-worth.

You don’t have to walk around on egg-shells, but do take a good look at your own behaviour and see if there are a few things you could change for the better.

How do you handle situations like mine above? Send us a CANDo email.

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