This is a follow up to the previous post on building self esteem in children. I was interviewed on Fox 13 news “The Place” program as a parenting expert and author of Keep It Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood. The interview was so short, I decided to expand on the 4 points I had prepared for the interview (we only touched the surface of the first two). The first point was Encouragement vs. Praise. This one is about Valuing the Worth of Others.
Self esteem is often mistaken as a product when someone has achieved something great. It’s easy to feel good about ourselves when we succeed. But what about when we don’t? Life is not usually full of spectacular moments and the spotlight aimed only in our direction. What about all the ordinary moments? Can we feel worthwhile when we are just okay? What about when we see (all too often) the success of others and our inadequacies? There is usually only one winner in a race, only one lead in the school play, and only one person picked to be the captain of the team. Self esteem is not just built on extraordinary achievements, but on all experiences in life, even those where others are the winners and we are not.
You see, self esteem is built by teaching a child to value and love themselves, but also to value the worth of others. The secret to self esteem is helping children to develop the capacity to feel and express joy in others’ accomplishments. Children can build esteem in themselves while they feel happiness for others who succeed. It seems paradoxical, but it’s the key to self worth: I’m not just valuable when I am the best but also when I allow for others to succeed and to recognize their achievements.
We need to model this as parents. We cannot show pettiness or jealousy when someone moves out ahead of us in life. As if they get the bigger piece of the pie and we go hungry. It’s so unfortunate when children hear their mother say,
“Just look at her. She must be a size 2. I guess she can afford a personal trainer to look that way.”
“Tom must have gotten a huge raise to buy another Lexus. Isn’t one enough? Are they trying to show off or what? What snobs.”
“Well honey, you didn’t win the spot on the team because the other parents are friends with the coach. Their daughter pretty much got on the team by favor and not any talent.”
Kids learn quickly to bad mouth others and throw a big pity party when things don’t go their way. Instead, we need to rejoice in another person’s happiness, even if we have to fake it. By so doing, we model how we have character, and character is part of our sense of worth.
When a child rejoices in another’s success, they learn that it doesn’t diminish their own happiness; rather, the joy spills over and multiplies. Their joy becomes our joy.
In the TV interview, I gave the real-life example of a teenager who auditioned for a play but her friend got the part instead. The disappointment stung for a while, but this young lady decided to celebrate the accomplishment with her friend. She went over to her house and congratulated her. She asked how she could help. Turning outward helped this young lady to focus less on her pain and to embrace positivity. She helped her friend memorize her lines. She learned there was more than one way to express her talents. When it came time to perform, she sat in the audience feeling amazing. Her friend’s accomplishment became her accomplishment. It was a defining moment for their friendship. They remained friends for life. This young lady turned this negative experience into a huge boost in her self esteem.
So practice saying things such as:
“I’m so happy for her.”
“What a great thing to happen to him. He deserves so much credit. He worked hard for that.”
“What can we do to congratulate her?”
“What a great accomplishment. I’m super proud of her.”
These sentiments trickle down to our kids and teach them that there’s always a piece of the pie enough to share, even if we have to make the pie ourselves and take it over to celebrate together.