I am interviewed twice a month (usually the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays) on BYU radio. This week was about “How to Raise Compassionate Children.” The one this week, on Tuesday, September 6th was responding to Hurricane Harvey that devastated Texas, as well as other natural disasters. Many compassionate people have come forward to help and have reminded us that the power of compassion is always greater than the power of any disaster.
If you want to listen to the interview, here is a link. Here are the main points I discussed.
- Expose children to a variety of experiences. “Compassionate” is to be open-hearted and open-minded, to feel confident in talking with people who are different. Children need direction and opportunities to get out of their comfort zone and see the wide world around them. In doing so, they will be more aware of the needs of others and respond more compassionately. How do we expose them to different experiences? Travel within your community to see places that reflect a variety of lifestyles and perspectives. Then go beyond your borders into other regions, and even countries. Don’t just stick to the touristy spots and resort strips; drive to where the “real” people live and shop and worship. Stop and talk to strangers to hear their stories. Be interested in others and model to your children how to see into the hearts of others by listening and asking questions. Our children have enjoyed hosting international students from time to time. We’ve also benefited from reading books together at bedtime to learn from the lives of characters very different from us. As you read, ask questions such as, “How do you think that person feels right now? How did that make you feel? How does this character inspire you? What would you do in this situation?” Help to process their feelings and evoke the compassion within them.
- Use the technique of “induction.” This parenting strategy teaches children to become aware of the consequences of their actions. It helps develop empathy for others. Rather than stating, “You’d better invite Sarah to your birthday party or she’ll feel left out,” help her to discover that for herself. Don’t TELL a child how to feel but let her feel it herself. “How do you think Sarah will feel if you don’t invite her to your birthday party?” or “How would you feel if you weren’t invited to a party?” Other inductive phrases sound like: “What did grandma’s face look like when you gave her the flowers?” “If you practice the piano, how do you think the people will feel when they hear such beautiful music?” “What do you think will happen when you are honest about returning that money?” “If you share your markers, don’t you think Sammy will want to share his with you?”
- Involve children in humanitarian and service opportunities. This can start on the micro level, within the family. Have family members draw names and do secret acts of service for each other. This is a popular “pixie” activity around Christmas time but can be done throughout the year. Ask your children to look for ways the family can serve others: “Who can we serve this week, or this month?” Many families encourage compassionate acts by asking their children at the end of each day, “Who did you serve today?” or “What was one nice thing you did for someone today?” And be sure to tell them what you did as well. If you do this on a regular basis, your children will learn that the question will be coming and they will dial into service opportunities. Soon, it will happen naturally. Be sure to ask the follow up reflection question: “How did you feel when you did that nice thing for another person?” It’s great to do service for others anonymously. Kids love the mystery of it all. It’s also fun to involve the family in projects with others so join clubs or others organizations to mobilize great efforts and outcomes. Finally, when the time is right and you are able, send your children (or go as a family) to do a major humanitarian project. My oldest child went to China as a volunteer to teach English after graduating from high school. Another child went with the Rotary Club in her junior year to build a house in Mexico. Another child volunteered at an orphanage in Quito, Ecuador the summer before her senior year. These are life-changing and eye-opening experiences.
- Discuss community and world events in natural conversations. Because of the nature of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, too much information delivered in an anxious tone can overwhelm and worry children. So as you talk about world events, be sure to keep a positive tone. I love the quote by Fred Rogers who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” So focus on the helpers when talking about unfortunate circumstances and how you can be helpers, too. Rather than feeling like the world is out of control, doing service helps a child to take control and empowers them to make a difference.
This is the final part in a 4-part series on building self esteem in children. Of course there are more ways than these four, but I highlighted only a few for the television interview this month. There was actually only time for two of the four, so I’ve posted two bonus points as well as elaborated more on each.
I picked these four points because they are all essential to self esteem but they are not the obvious topics when discussing it. They may not be intuitive and can be easily overlooked. That’s why I like them so much and want to share them. That’s why I’ve titled them The Secrets of Self Esteem.
Yes, this one is not obvious at all. Building self esteem in children usually looks like a parent who tries to develop their child’s talents and finds ways for their child to achieve. Once they make the team, or win the blue ribbon or get straight A’s, then the child will feel good about herself, right?
My point with this last post is that after raising 5 children to work hard, I’ve gained insight that accomplishing a goal that was just out of reach is extremely satisfying. Like climbing a mountain and looking back at how far you’ve come. There’s a price to pay for such a view. And often the best reinforcement comes from within.
One of my daughters got a job as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant when she was 14 years old. She could barely see over the counter. She locked her knees when taking orders on the first day and was so nervous she fainted in front of the customer. We laugh about that now, but she proved her persistence by going back after that disastrous first day and working there for the next 3 summers. She knows that if she could get through that, she could do anything.
I included a photo of a boy mowing the lawn because it reminds me of my kids who mowed our large lawn when the mower seemed bigger than they were. I won’t lie; it was challenging to get them to do it sometimes. There was griping and complaining from time to time. But sweat and raw hard work is good for the muscles and building self worth. The accomplishment is rewarding and sometimes there is no standing ovation after finishing a grimy job. You learn to dig deep and finish what you started. Children need to learn they have value and can do hard things without a reward.
Sure they can sweat and work hard though being on a sports team or playing a musical instrument. But these activities are really self-interest driven. They are for the glory of the individual. The reinforcement is usually extrinsic. Self esteem is rooted in belonging to something larger than ourselves. Self esteem should not be limited to just what the child can do for himself, but how he makes sacrifices to belong to a family and maintain the life they live together.
So while studying hard for good grades or performing well in a school play are part of self esteem, another overlooked element is the work that gets no public recognition. It’s the physical work that is good for the soul because it’s not self-centered.
Don’t short change your kids by hiring out work they should and can be doing as a family member. Everyone needs to contribute whether through chores or a part-time job. It’s part of ownership and valuing what you have. We take better care of the things we have to care for and we feel more connected to the family when we each contribute our part.
This is the third part in a series I’ve posted on the topic of building self esteem in children. Fox News 13 picked my book as the “Book of the Month” and interviewed me about the topic of parenting. I decided to write more than I was able to share on the short segment. The previous tips were “Encouragement vs. Praise” and “Valuing the Worth of Others.” This next one we didn’t have time to talk about so I’m including it here.
Learning from Mistakes
Parents can do a lot to reinforce a child’s worth when mistakes happen. Instinctively, we do the opposite: humiliate or rage about their incompetence. Kick them when they’re down. We forget that growth means learning to improve and imperfection is part of the natural world. We still fail and we’ve had a lot more experience than children. How do we want others to react when we make a mistake? I think we’d want others to be gentle with us, and that’s the way we should be with ourselves and our children. It’s good to remember that they are new at life. They are still learning, and making mistakes is part of the learning process.
No doubt it’s appropriate to express our disappointment when they’ve done something wrong. But at the same time, parents need to see these as opportunities to teach the value of the individual. We affirm their goodness even if what they didn’t wasn’t so good. “Wow, that wasn’t so smart, but you are smart. In fact, I know you are better than this and I know you’ll figure out a way to fix it.”
I’m not advocating for parents to neglect enforcing a consequence when needed. But many times, kids just screw up because they weren’t thinking or they were being careless, not because they were doing it on purpose or being malevolent. I’m just reminding us that words matter when we say, “What were you thinking? You’re such an idiot! How many times must I tell you? Are you deaf?” These are moments when fragile self esteem takes a beating. These words are tearing down an already low-spirited child.
Let’s not kick the child when he’s down. Let’s offer a hand up, dusting off, and the confidence to step up and do better. The following is an example of how a dad did just this when his young son spilled his drink at a Target store. Another customer, Kalynne Marie, witnessed his response and posted it on Facebook . As you read her post, notice how this amazing dad took the opportunity to teach his son about how to clean up the “spills” in life while instilling self confidence and personal responsibility.
“I just witnessed a boy, maybe about 6 or 7, accidentally spill a slushee everywhere in Target. I didn’t get a photo but I’m including one of my son and I. I’m talking blue and red goop all over the floor, the table, everywhere. The boy looked up at who I assume was his father, and immediately apologized. Instead of getting angry, his father just said ‘Hey, it happens. Let’s go get napkins and I can show you how to clean it up.’ Then they calmly went to get napkins and then he helped him clean the entire mess. Then, as they were throwing the napkins away, the father said to his son, ‘You’re going to be a human being for a long time, and you have such a smart brain that it’s important you learn how to be more aware of what you’re doing. So next time just be sure to pay more attention to your surroundings so accidents like this don’t happen. Accidents like these can be prevented, but it’s still okay if they happen. As long as you take responsibility for your mistakes, the clean up is a breeze. I know big messes seem overwhelming and you might feel like you can’t do it by yourself, but it’s always okay to ask for help. There is no problem with asking for help when you need it.’
I have no words. That is parenting done right.” 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
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.
Since my television interview last week was short and sweet, I wasn’t able to elaborate on 4 ways parents can support healthy self esteem. It’s impossible to cover “self esteem” in 5 minutes! So I’m going to write a bit more information and ideas and separate them into 4 posts. This one covers the first point which I briefly explained on the TV interview.
Encouragement versus Praise
In my book, I dedicate a chapter to this topic. Many folks think that encouragement and praise are the same thing. They really are not, and knowing the difference and how to use each one is important to building self esteem in children.
Handing out praise is like handing out a Pop Tart to your child. “Good job!” is easy and quick to say and a feel-good moment. It gives the parent and child a “sugar buzz” with no lasting value. I assert this because if we merely wait for the child to do something good and evaluate the end result, we are using a value judgement or what we think of the child, not what the child is thinking of himself.
“I’m so proud of you. Way to go!” is focusing on my feelings, how I esteem the child, not how he esteems himself. It removes the opportunity for the child to assess his or her own worth and effort. If we only use praise without encouragement, we risk raising sugar junkies on a steady diet of praise.
We live in a world that artificially reinforces worth. Social media is a platform to praise and judge the value of others. Those who use social media will look to others as a measure of worth: how many “likes” or followers they have. How many comments on their selfie. They constantly check their devices to see how others have commented on their new hair style, or outfit, or body. Praise junkies.
How many times have you seen a child with an immature self esteem who runs to her parent with (fill in the blank) and says, “Mommy look at what I did. Do you like it???” They don’t know if it’s good until they hear the words from their parent’s mouth.
Encouragement, on the other hand, uses self reflection, like holding up a mirror to that child and asking, “What do you see?” If your child comes to you with school grades, parents will often praise, “Wow, all A’s. Good job” without taking the time to ask the child how he or she feels about the grades, or more importantly, the effort they put into earning the grades. An encouraging parent will stop and ask instead, “Look at these grades. How do you feel about them?” I don’t know about you, but I worked super hard for some B’s in my life and was really proud of myself.
I’m sure a parent wouldn’t want to reward a child if she found out later the child cheated or procrastinated for those A’s. She would be reinforcing bad behavior through meaningless praise. If we consider encouragement more often, we recognize how it’s better to reinforce the good behavior that earned them the grade.
Encouragement means we take the time to notice the effort along the way rather than waiting until the end to give high fives. It’s much more involved parenting and helping the child to recognize her or his worth that is independent from us.
So is praise bad? No! Just consider the added dimension of encouragement in building self esteem. Encouragement has lasting value because it is built from within. It’s authentic and individual. It causes parents to stop more often to notice the good progress and character traits like determination and team work. Not everyone can kick the winning soccer goal or be voted Student Body President, or gets all A’s. But everyone has capacity to build character traits that endure after the applause ends. So point out along the way what you see your child doing such as having good sportsmanship or determination. And when they are first to cross the finish line, that’s great, too.
Here’s an example of how praise and encouragement can work together to build self esteem. Every parent struggles to teach their children to clean their room (At least I think that’s the case. If you don’t, then I’d love you to share your Jedi mind tricks with me). After you have taught your child how to clean properly, you can let go and be more of a support figure. You stop by their room and ask, “How’s it coming along?” You remind them how to break down the task into manageable pieces. You encourage them to look around and see what they’ve accomplished so far. Then, when it’s done, you can high five them with lavish praise. “You did it!” And I would add: “How does it feel to work so hard and have such a clean room?”
I hope you got some insight into this first tip of building self esteem in children. I’ll be posting Part 2 next.
Even though my latest book isn’t “news” anymore, apparently it caught the attention of Fox 13 News. I was interviewed and it aired on Thursday, August 3rd. Here is the segment in case you missed it.
We tend to think of Supreme Court Justices as austere (and a bit wizened) men and women staring down in long dark robes to deliver law and order from hallowed halls. Turns out at least one of them is a parent (who knew!) of a 9th grader.
Justice John Roberts shed his robes and spoke as a dad at his son’s commencement. Not only does he deliver wisdom to our courts, but timeless wisdom to our homes. The internet is picking it up because it offers some rare advice in a rather startling way. Time.com posted this headline to summarize his speech: “I wish you bad luck.”
I totally agree with his advice. Do you? (read it first before responding…you may be surprised).
Here’s an excerpt:
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.
I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
That final line is the zinger: to see the message in our misfortunes. Parenting isn’t about shielding our children from pain, stumbling, or misfortune. I know my primal instinct is to protect. And protect we should, from infancy on for a few years. But there is a gradual letting go, even before Kindergarten starts, to prepare them for the world of disappointment.
They won’t be first in line.
They won’t get A’s on everything.
They won’t get picked first to play on teams.
They won’t get the first job they apply for.
So Justice Roberts gives us a little window into the hard knocks of life, especially for these privileged boys who probably had some helicopter parents in the crowd. And read between the lines: he’s telling us how to step back, let go, and help our kids become resilient and strong because of the opportunities that challenge give us/them.
As I read his dichotomous lines, I realize how opposition in all things can teach the greatest truth. I, for one, have suffered all these things at some points in my life: betrayal, loneliness, bad luck, being ignored, and losing. And many other hard things. I am grateful for each time these happened because these pointy lessons sent barbs into my heart to soften it up a bit. To bleed a little to feel the humanity of others and of my own.
Think of the compassion kids could learn if we could take to heart what Justice Roberts is saying here. Think of the wisdom, the integrity, the strength of character.
Agree or not? Now that you’ve read it, I hope you felt a little discomfort, as I did, to coach not rescue, to teach not save. It’s usually not our first instinct, but I am glad of the reminder to be more conscious of how to respond better.
This is priceless. I’m trying to be sympathetic and not laugh, but it’s impossible.
Is that even possible?
It seems that kids are turning to electronics 24/7 for summer vacation. Television and other handheld devices are more inviting than ever. They are an easy way to keep kids occupied while we work from home, or just want peace and quiet. And they’re easier to clean up than Play Doh.
Sure, gaming is fun and TV has some educational programming, but many parents want more than that for their kids. Aren’t they supposed to learn how to play with others? Socialize? Problem solve (other than how to shoot angry birds to kill virtual pigs)? Engage in creativity and sports? We have this intuitive sense that gaming and TV are like Twinkies: great for a treat, but not for a steady diet. Sadly, many kids are becoming sugar junkies on technology.
The featured photo for this post is a spinner for kids to use for balance in their lives. It could be used for summer or the whole year. Whether or not you are turned on by this “spin” on the Fidget Spinner craze, I’d like to suggest five ideas for more play and less TV this summer.
- Bring out the goods. The expression comes to mind: “You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.” Kids might need a jump start to squeeze creative juices from their stagnant minds. This means it’s up to us, the adult, to supply plenty of material and equipment like sidewalk chalk, Nerf guns, water colors, and roller blades. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. When my kids were small, from time time I’d have an open-ended “make and take” activity on the kitchen table when friends were over. I’d put out rubber stamps and ink pads, various kinds of paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, and decorative punches. They made crowns, cards, paper dolls, you name it. “Trashables” extends this creative process by offering empty egg cartons, paper towel rolls, empty cereal boxes, aluminum foil, etc. Fort building is another popular activity that only requires blankets and chairs.
- Practice a 1:1 ratio. For every one hour of physical activity, a child can earn one hour of screen time. It doesn’t have to be a huge sporting activity, but a water fight, bike ride, or hide and seek will do. You’d be surprised how they get so involved in the fun, the hour extends and the time is forgotten.
- Be involved. Kids may need your guidance to get ideas. Once they get started, they can continue on their own. Teach them how to play hopscotch and “Around the World” basketball. Draw a “road map” with sidewalk chalk on the driveway or sidewalk and let your little ones drive their toy cars around, and teach them trampoline games. Kids are growing up not knowing HOW to engage in self-guided activities so they resort to TV and gaming to inform them instead. I’d also like to promote summer programs that parents can initiate such as library summer reading programs. Go with your child to the library weekly to get a handful of new books to read and audio books to listen to. In order to do #3, it’s a given that the parents unplug for a while too (and perhaps find out they are just as addicted as their kids!)
- Keep a routine. I like the Fidget Spinner idea where each day the kids know the routine and how to get to “PLAY.” This other idea was shared on the internet and has a similar process:This may scream,”Too much structure!” because you would rather let your kids do their own thing. It’s summer, after all, right? I read a lot of negative comments that were posted about this idea. Stuff like, “Hey I played computer games 24/7 when I was a kid. Now I’m a computer programmer. I don’t think playing with cardboard boxes would have got me where I am today.” I would respectfully respond that working with computers successfully is one small part of a person’s overall well being and ability to have a fulfilling life and relationship with others.
- Recruit other kids and parents. It may not make you The Most Popular Parent on the Block, but encourage your kids’ friends to put away their devices when they come over. Teach them other ways of playing. Talk to other parents about research that overwhelmingly reports the perils of too much technology and TV. It’s hard to fight the tsunami of usage if you are doing it alone. My friend’s son is having a device-free summer and all the friends support and respect him. They know they need to come up with other ideas like skateboarding and playing basketball. The board games have been dusted off and been a gold mine of connection and fun.
If you aren’t convinced, search the internet for plenty of stories and tips where parents did the unthinkable: unplugged their kids from TV and/or electronics. Here is one such testimonial, among others that will give you the inspiration and willpower to do was is best (but not always easiest at first!).