Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks we face as adults and yet almost nothing is done in our education system to prepare us for parenting.
It is assumed that each person will follow their instincts and recall what their parents did as a guide. This may not auger well if their parents have not been good role-models. The result is that while some parents do a fairly good job, others blunder through a series of frustrations in what may be to them their genuine effort.
One of the most important aspects in parenting is instilling and building a healthy dose of self-esteem in children. Self-confidence in a child is developed through firstly, a sincere appreciation of who the child is.
Secondly, we should also notice the natural talents the child has and develop and encourage them. Self-confidence is ruined when parents insist that the child conform to what they think is best, rather than allow for the flowering of what the child is endowed with. Self-confidence as the word implies, is the result of them recognising their ability to perform successfully and gaining a sense of self-worth from that success.
Thirdly, self-esteem is also the result of healthy, positive relationships between parents and between parents and children. When there is conflict, disunity or a lack of love and regard between both parents, children slowly lose their confidence, as they become disappointed and confused.
Family disharmony is one of the main causes of children feeling unloved even though they may be well provided for materially, and this sense of not being valued eats into the personal worth of the individual.
The assets of a child are built through a sense of commitment by parents and the imparting of values while developing competence in the child. Parents are the main contributors in developing these assets and they must demonstrate through what they say and do that they are fully committed to nurturing the abilities of the child.
Question: You have said that children and young people are experiencing an epidemic of self-doubt and feelings of low self-esteem. Why do you think this is true?
Answer: It has resulted, in part, from an unjust system of evaluating human worth now prevalent in our society. Not everyone is seen as worthy; not everyone is accepted. Instead, we reserve our praise and admiration for those who have been blessed from birth with the characteristics we value most highly. It is a vicious system, and we, as parents, must counterbalance its impact.
At the top of the list of the most highly respected and valued attributes in our culture is physical attractiveness. Those who happen to have it are often honoured and even feared; those who do not may be disrespected and rejected through no fault of their own.
This measure of human worth is evident from the earliest moments of life, when an attractive infant is considered more valuable than a homely one. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a mother to be depressed shortly after the birth of her first baby. She had hoped to give birth to a beautiful six-week-old baby, having four front teeth and rosy, pink cheeks. Instead, they hand her a red, toothless, bald, prune-faced, screaming little individual who isn’t exactly what Mom expected.
As the child grows, his or her value as a person will be assessed not only by parents but also by those outside the home. Beauty contests offering scholarships and prizes for gorgeous babies are now common, as if the attractive child didn’t already have enough advantages in life. What a distorted system for evaluating human worth.
As author George Orwell has written, “All [people] are equal, but some [people] are more equal than others.” The real tragedy today is how often this statement is proven true in the lives of our children.
Question: What about good-natured teasing and joking within the family? Is it harmful to laugh and kid each other?
Answer: The most healthy families are those which can laugh together and I certainly don’t think our egos should be so fragile that we all have to walk on cracked eggs around each other. However, even innocent humour can be painful when one child is always the object of the jokes.
When one youngster has an embarrassing feature, such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking or stuttering or a striking physical flaw, the other members of the family should be encouraged to tread softly on the exposed nerves thereabout. And particularly, one should not ridicule a child for his size, whether he is a small boy or a large girl. There is nothing funny about that subject.
This is the guiding principle: it is wise not to tease a child about the features he is also defending outside the home. And when he asks for any joke to end, his wishes should be honoured.
Question: Must I brag on my child all day for every little thing he does? Isn’t it possible to create a spoiled brat by telling him his every move is wonderful?
Answer: Yes, inflationary praise is unnecessary. Junior quickly catches on to your verbal game, and your words then lose their meaning. It is helpful to distinguish between the concepts of flattery vs. praise. Flattery is unearned. It is what Grandma says when she comes for a visit: “Oh, look at my beautiful little girl! You’re getting prettier each day. I’ll bet you’ll have to beat the boys off with a club when you get to be a teenager!” Or, “My, what a smart boy you are.”
Flattery occurs when you heap compliments upon the child for something he did not achieve.
Praise, on the other hand, is used to reinforce positive, constructive behaviour. It should be highly specific rather than general. “You’ve been a good boy…” is unsatisfactory. “I like the way you kept your room straight today,” is better. Parents should always watch for opportunities to offer genuine, well-deserved praise to their children, while avoiding empty flattery.
Question: My child is often ridiculed and hurt by the other children on our block, and I don’t know how to handle the situation. He gets very depressed and comes home crying frequently. How should I respond when this happens?
Answer: When your child has been rejected in this manner, he is badly in need of a friend – and you are elected. Let him talk. Don’t try to tell him that it doesn’t hurt or that it’s silly to be so sensitive.
Ask him if he knows what it is that his “friends” don’t like. [He may be causing their reaction by dominance, selfishness, or dishonesty.] Be understanding and sympathetic without weeping in mutual despair. As soon as appropriate, involve yourself with him in a game or some other activity, which he will enjoy. And finally, set about resolving the underlying cause.
I would suggest that you ask your child to invite one of his school friends to go for a movie on Saturday [or offer other attractive “bait”] and then spend the night at your house. Genuine friendship often grows from such beginnings.
Even the hostile children in the neighbourhood may be more kind when only one of them is invited at a time. Not only can you help your child make friends in this way, but also you can observe the social mistakes he is making to drive them away. The information you gain can later be used to help him improve his relationship with others.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and the Questions and Answers are extracted from “Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide” by Dr. James Dobson with permission.
We’re here for you
Our professionally trained counsellors are here to help if you need a listening ear.