How to help your kid have healthy self esteem by Donna Fish

What parent doesn’t want their kid to feel good about themselves?  You know that commercial with the little kid batting the ball saying:  “I am the best hitter in the world!”  or , “I am the best pitcher in the world!”,   with the ‘happy soundtrack’ in the background?

The slogan for the commercial is:  “That’s OPTIMISM!”  I shake my head muttering  “No, that’s delusional!”

Here’s this kid thinking he is the best pitcher in the world and one day, guess what? One day he won’t be able to throw that ball, and he will likely throw his glove down in anger and he won’t go back, because he isn’t “the best pitcher”.

Now I know this commercial is trying to promote the idea of OPTIMISM but as a therapist I take issue with this idea that optimism is about being THE BEST.  Is that the only way ‘WE CAN?’  More importantly, what kind of set up is this for our kids to think they have to “BE THE BEST”?  How many kids are truly going to BE THE BEST?  What kind of perfectionism are we promoting? What happens when they realize they aren’t “the best”?

Most of the emphasis seems to be on WINNING.  We live in an ‘uber-‘competitive culture. There is way too much focus on the win, and too little on any kind of process.  Ironically, in sports, this idea is built into the structure of training and discipline.

But what if your kid doesn’t do a sport or any activity that involves structured training?  How do you as a parent help give your kid the skills to DO THEIR BEST, which involves trying over and over and over?!

So, I offer up some quick tips on helping your kids build self esteem and cope with reality:  (The good and the bad).  I call it “Skill Training on Being Human 101”    IT IS NORMAL to have strengths and weaknesses in all ways.

  1. It is NORMAL to feel great about some parts of yourself, and not about others
  2. It is NORMAL to feel badly about these parts, or how you have done at times.
  3. It is NORMAL to feel anxious, sad, frustrated, bad, insecure, envious, angry, competitive, etc.
  4. It is NORMAL to feel ambivalent; two feelings that seem opposite about the same thing: every decision has its bad aspects no matter how good.

Teaching ourselves and our kids to roll with the BAD without getting stuck in it, or getting stuck in behaviors that reinforce the feeling:  “I suck” involves the following:

  1. Identify the feeling and the negative thoughts that result.
  2. Know that emotional states shade thinking, similarly to how a cloud passing over the sun makes things dark.
  3. Feelings pass.  The intensity of feelings shift and it will not be” a 10″ an hour later, or the next day.  Might be  2, or even a 0.
  4. When the feeling and intensity dies down, you can think straight and use judgment to problem solve.
  5. Give yourself time to let the feeling shift.  Set a timer.  Distract yourself with things that don’t reinforce the negative.  Stick with the feelings and use behaviors to help you live with them, or soothe them, not take them away.  (Food, drugs, alcohol, anything excessively that is being used to avoid bad feelings all the time just reinforces a belief that you don’t have a right to feel good about yourself.  Results that then lend credence to the negative thinking about yourself:  i.e. “I am a loser, I have no control”, “I am fat, ugly, awful, etc. feed proof to the insecurity.)
  6. Give yourself space and time to feel.  Give your kid space to let the intensity die down.  IF they want you close by, that’s fine, but don’t get stuck if they are passing the hot potato of negativity by blaming you.   Kids do this a lot and that is part of developing.  Help them learn though how to identify their feelings and take responsibility for them after the intensity dies down.

Few people are THE BEST at anything.  Let’s give ourselves and our kids a nice ‘matter of fact’ attitude toward living that is the scaffolding to TRYING OURS AND THEIR HARDEST.   Showing up.  Putting one foot in front of the other despite how you feel. Over and over.

That is what builds competence, confidence, self esteem, and, dare I say, ‘real life’ optimism.

Other articles by Donna:

Teaching Kids to Wait

The Dinner Wars: Parents Fighting Over Dinner

Eat Like A Kid

Take the Fight Out of Food: Identifying Your Kids Eating Style

How Many Bites More Before Dessert?

Your DNA: Your Picky Eater

Food Issues and Toddlers

How To Teach Your Kids About Sugar

Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and three daughters, writes her own blog and blogs for The Huffington Post. With the publication of her book: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, she has appeared on and in NPR, Parenting Magazine, Weekend Today Show, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC and has lectured at Early Childhood Centers of Sarah Lawrence College, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and trained the Head Start Staff of NYC. She lectures to private schools in NYC: Bank street, Village Community School, Dalton, Chapin and more. Donna blogs for us every month- lucky us!