The Happiness Connection  

Creating self-esteem in kids

When I wrote about five essential parenting skills last week, I didn’t explain why they are so important.

Thank you to everyone who contacted me, wanting to know more.

The best thing parents can do for their children is to send them into their adult life with a strong, positive sense of who they are and the skills they need to be happy and successful.

This may seem like a tall order, but it boils down to one main gift. You want your children to love and believe in themselves.

Self-esteem, self-love, self-belief, and self-confidence all have slightly different meanings, but I tend to use them interchangeably in this conversation.

Believing you can get up when you fall, are worth loving and being respected, and will find a solution to deal with whatever comes your way, are the keys to self-esteem.

If you want to increase self-esteem, try using the following principles.

  • Belief comes from experience
  • Self-care is imperative
  • Do no harm

Let’s start with the first one.

There is a misguided belief that if you tell your children often enough that they are smart, beautiful, or talented, they will take your word for it and believe in themselves.

You know hearing negative things can tear down your confidence, so surely hearing positive comments will build it up.

This is not the case.

In fact, research carried out by Dr. Carol Dweck shows that praise can be more of a hindrance than a help unless you praise the right things.

If you say you are proud of me because I did well at school, or scored a goal in a big game, what happens if I don’t do well, or I play badly?

Does that mean you won’t be proud of me?

Children don’t consciously process these thoughts; they are deeply embedded in their subconscious minds. If they believe your love is attached to results, they stop caring about learning and focus purely on how well they do.

With this mindset, if they don’t think they will succeed, they’d rather not try.

Learning comes from making mistakes and having unexpected outcomes. You want to encourage your children to try new things without fear of being a disappointment.

If you want your words of encouragement to honour learning rather than outcomes, praise effort and perseverance rather than grades and results. In this way you are supporting the experience they are having not whether they succeed.

It is better for them to believe that if they work hard, they can do whatever they want than thinking they need to be the best.

I’d like to share the parenting approach of a friend.

The first time I was at her house, I watched her two pre-school children open a sealed box with a pair of large, sharp scissors.

My first reaction was alarm, until I glanced at my friend. She was watching them without any sign of concern. I was too polite to say anything at the time, but as I got to know her more, I realized the gift she was giving them.

Rather than wrapping them up in cotton wool so they didn’t get hurt, she taught them how to use the scissors carefully. Then, she showed them that she trusted they could do it.

Now, that is how you give children a healthy dose of confidence.

She and her husband now have three children, and they continue to teach and then trust. Her youngsters have more confidence and self-belief than many adults do.

Their method seems counterintuitive, but it works.

They are allowing their family to learn how capable and resilient they are through experience. And they are learning this at a young age.

You can’t give another person the gift of self-esteem, you can only support them while they discover it for themselves.

Give them the skills and then show them you believe and trust that they can succeed. Even if it doesn’t happen the first time they try.

The tips I wrote about last week all support this theory.

By letting everyone take their own path and reinforcing the belief that each journey is unique to the person involved, you are fostering collaboration rather than competition.

There is room for lots of people to succeed in this world. The amount and types of success available are infinite.

If you allow your children to fall and don’t rush in to save them, you are providing them with evidence that they are resilient. If they got up once, they can do it again.

Falling is part of life. This is where the learning lies. It should be accepted openly not hidden or avoided. As I often say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Failing to achieve a desired outcome doesn’t say anything about the person involved. Failing, doesn’t make you are a failure. It makes you a learner, if you let it.

Take time to talk with your children when things don’t work out, the way they hoped. What did they learn? They will be able to take this lesson with them the next time they encounter a similar situation.

As a parent your job is to give unconditional love, dry tears, and encourage conversation.

The second principle also fosters self-esteem. Teach that self-care is not selfish. The best way to do this is to model it yourself. Everyone is worthy of being looked after. You are the person who understands your needs best.

It’s easy in our society to believe that you should put everyone else’s needs before your own. Like they say on an airplane, put your own oxygen mask on first. You won’t be able to help anyone else if you can’t breathe.

Lastly, do no harm. Help your children understand they should love themselves without doing anything that hurts others or their environment. This will help those parents that worry about producing arrogant offspring.

The human mind is complicated. It’s nice to hear good things being said about you, but the only way to have good self-esteem, is through experiences.

For those readers who wanted to know more about how adults can improve their self-esteem, I’ll address that topic next week.


5 essential parenting skills

When I taught elementary and middle school, I always found September the most challenging month.

The work I put in at the beginning of the academic year set the expectations for the months that followed.

In the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on.”

This may resonate with parents who have sent their offspring back to school this past week. Readjusting to routine after the freedom of the summer requires an extra influx of energy.

Parenting is arguably both the most rewarding and the most challenging tasks you will ever encounter.

When your first youngster arrives, you may wonder how you missed out on the child-rearing gene. Every other parent seems to naturally know what to do. Or so it appears.

Parenting does not have a one size fits all manual that gets delivered with the arrival of your first baby. Even if it did, you wouldn’t find all the answers in it.

What works for one child, may not work for the next one.

This is something that every parent with multiple children knows. Even if they share the same biological parents, it is unlikely that each child will respond to parenting attempts in the same way.

Although people have been childrearing for as long as there have been family units, it is no different than any other life career. With experience comes skill and, let’s hope, wisdom.

Like anything, you are unlikely to get everything right the first time. Practice makes perfect.

Whenever I ask parents what they want most for their children, the most frequently given answer is they want them to be happy.

It’s common to believe the best way to achieve this is to protect children from challenges or solve their problems for them. You may make things easier in the short run, but it won’t serve them in the long term.

You may have the mistaken belief that if you wrap them up to protect them, tell them how smart they are, and direct their journey through school, you will achieve that.

These principles may look good on paper, but they will not guide your child to be a happy, self-sufficient adult.

Childhood is a time of learning and preparation.

If you want to groom your offspring for a happy adulthood, you must guide them to stand on their own two feet and trust their instincts.

Childhood is the best time to learn you are a resilient problem solver. How do you do that?

Here are five gifts you can give the students in your house if you want to prepare them to be happy and successful adults.

Let them fall

Letting your children fall is the only way they will learn how to get back up. That doesn’t mean you should abandon them. Be there to offer comfort and support, and to let them know you believe in them.

If you have ever been on a ski hill, you will know that falling is easier when you are five than when you are fifty.

Remind yourself that everyone has their own path

Your path won’t be the same as that of your children. Don’t assume what worked for you will work for them.

It is common for parents to believe their children can learn from the mistakes they made when they were younger. This isn’t true.

Learning is more about the process than the outcome. It is about taking calculated risks, examining options, and recovering from unexpected results.

The goal is to learn, not just get an A.

As they learn and grow, love your children, offer different viewpoints and advice, but don’t try to prevent them from making their own decisions and living with the consequences.

Model the skills you want your children to learn

Don’t be afraid to let your family see you struggle with a problem or behave in a less than perfect way. Show them the skills and tools you use when you let your emotions get the better of your common sense.

Apologize when you know you are in the wrong. Demonstrate your courage to try something new. Let them see how you pick yourself up from a fall and carry on.

Above all, show them that there is always something new to learn about themselves and the world they live in.

Honour effort and learning above natural ability

There is a misplaced belief that by telling your children how smart they are, you will strengthen their self belief. This is not the case.

You may not say it, but by praising intelligence and sporting prowess, your children may believe that’s why you love them. There is likely to be an inner worry that you won’t love them if they don’t do well.

This puts pressure on them to succeed rather than to learn. This makes it more difficult for them to take risks and try something new.

They will take the safe route rather than the one that would make them happier or give them more opportunities to learn. Research show that children who do well in school will cheat to do even better because they are focused on the grade rather than on the process.

Instead, let your children know that life is a learning game and that some things will come more easily to them than others. School should be more about learning than the marks on a test or report card.

Praise effort and progress. Natural ability is just a starting point. Encourage your children to see where they can go if they apply hard work and determination.

Don’t compare

See each child as an individual. Everyone is on their own journey through life; it isn’t a race or a competition. Emphasize co-operation and collaboration.

Encourage your children to cheer on family and friends and to want them to do the best they can. One person’s success doesn’t minimize anyone else’s. What is success for one child may look different for another.

Don’t buy into the mistaken belief that there is only so much happiness and success to go around. There is enough for everyone to enjoy.

These principles won’t only help parents who are getting ready for another week of school routine. They will help anyone of any age.

Imagine what life would be like if everyone knew how to be robustly happy? Now that’s a world I’d love to experience.

How's your self-esteem?

I was speaking with a woman recently who separated from her husband.

A major life change like this requires adjustment. It takes time regardless of how amicable the split is.

What once seemed second nature may suddenly become difficult. In this case, she was finding it hard to focus on her professional life. Her marriage had given her the stability she needed to soar in her business.

With that piece no longer there, she felt ungrounded.

Just like anchors that are found in boats, emotional anchors keep you from drifting aimlessly. They provide a feeling of safety.

For many people, their life partner gives them this foundation.

The difficulty of giving such a major responsibility to another person is the problems that arise if they disappear from your life. You can anchor yourself to your business or a purpose, but they, too, can vanish.

It doesn’t take any wondrous power to figure out where I’m going with this thought. The one thing that will never vanish from your life is you. This is where you need to put your anchor.

How do you do that? By creating a secure anchor of self-esteem.

People who are self-confident believe they can overcome anything that happens in their life. They don’t live in an atmosphere of anxiety, control, or negativity. They trust they will be able to handle whatever is thrown at them.

I tend to use the words self-esteem and self-confidence interchangeably because their meanings are very similar, and I try not to repeat the same word too many times when I’m writing.

For the record:

  • self-esteem is how you feel about yourself.
  • self-confidence is how you feel about your abilities.

If you feel you aren’t good enough, it is your esteem that is suffering. Believing you can’t join a sports team because you are inept is confidence.

Because your abilities are closely tied to how you see yourself, I don’t make a distinction between the two words.

You may believe that you love and accept yourself; that your self-esteem is just fine, thank you very much.

A few years ago, I would have said the same thing. But as I’ve delved below the surface to uncover my beliefs about myself, I realize that may not be the case. Perhaps my self-esteem could use some additional work.

What does low self-esteem look like?

Let me share some common ways it presents itself. If any of these resonate with you, it doesn’t mean you don’t think highly enough of yourself – but it might.

My aim this week is to give you something to think about so you can go a little deeper in your understanding of yourself.

I don’t mean the person you think you should be. I’m talking about the real you that you may not share often with others.

  • Do you feel an urge to brag about your accomplishments?
  • Are you sensitive to criticism, and overly critical of yourself?
  • Do you give up easily when something become difficult?
  • Do you judge yourself and people on material possessions? This may include buying things you can’t really afford, to impress others.
  • Are decisions difficult for you to make because you worry other people won’t agree with your choice?
  • Do you have difficulty saying no?
  • Do you struggle to stand up for yourself, or are you overly aggressive?
  • Do you love to be the centre of attention, even if it is for negative reasons?
  • Are you rebellious, often for no reason other than to be a rebel?

How many times did you answer yes? These are things commonly found in people with low self-esteem.

As I was compiling this list, I recognized just how low my self-esteem was when I was younger. More important, I realize there is more I can do to improve how I feel about myself.

Self-development is a process that has no finish line. There is always more to learn and strength to be gained.

When you notice your lack of self-esteem kick in, acknowledge its existence, but don’t let negative chatter get started. Instead treat yourself they way you would your best friend.

What would you say if they started beating themselves up for being overweight, useless, or stupid?

That’s what you need to say to yourself.


Take Marilyn's advice

Being alone does not mean you are lonely.

I’ve talked about loneliness before, but based on the discussions I’ve been having lately, I think it is time for a revisit.

How do you feel about being on your own? It could be living alone, going to a movie by yourself, or going for a solo spa weekend.

For many people, being alone carries a negative connotation. Social stigma implies you are alone because you don’t have a choice. It’s as if you are being told that no normal person would choose to be alone if they had the opportunity to have company.

Perhaps this comes from the drive to procreate,which requires having a partner. Maybe it results from the necessity in primitive times for humans to act together as one unit if they wanted to survive.

Regardless of the reason, it can be challenging to be single again after years of being part of a couple. It is common to yearn for another person to share your life with. No one wants the perceived discomfort that comes with being alone.

It’s important to understand that although humans are ultra-social animals, they can be perfectly happy on their own. It is no less desirable than being wth other people.

I grew up feeling insecure about who I was. I needed the company of friends to feel courageous. I’d miss out on adventures if I didn’t have someone to go with me.

When I was newly married, we went to Australia. One place we visited was the Great Barrier Reef. We had the opportunity to go snorkeling, but my husband was uncomfortable being in deep water. I didn’t want to go on my own, so I missed out.

I believed that unless I was with someone else, people would perceive me as friendless. In my eyes, being alone at a movie, social event, or restaurant, carried a level of shame. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t find a partner?

I’m both older and wiser. I no longer carry this belief. Being alone has nothing to do with being lonely unless you want it to.

Being alone is a desire to have time by yourself. It is both empowering and powerful.

Being lonely comes from victim energy. Rather than standing in your personal power, you feel you have been forced into an undesirable situation.

Even if you feel lonely, you have the power to change your perspective. See it as a chance to spend quality time with yourself and design a dream date.

It is time to stop assuming that people on their own have no other option.

Even if you love doing things with your friends, choosing to go somewhere by yourself can be a refreshing and powerful change. Rather than wondering if your partner is having fun, you can focus on yourself. There is no reason to compromise when you are the only one involved.

I love to watch movies on the big screen. I often invite family and friends to accompany me, but if no one is available, I happily go on my own.

I have learned to make decisions for my social calendar that I am happy to do solo or with company. It takes the pressure off everyone involved. If my friends drop out, I don’t feel compelled to do the same. I can go on my own.

If you enjoy your time alone, it makes no difference whether the people around you think you have no friends or not. You know the truth.

This was hard for me to learn. I was so indoctrinated to worry what other people thought, that it shaped my life for many years. I still have moments when I return to that old way of thinking, but when that happens, I remind myself what other people think of me is none of my business.

A short personal pep talk usually has me back into my personal power and ready to greet the world on my terms.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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