One of the most powerful techniques for building positive self-esteem in children is to let them know how much you appreciate them. Appreciation lets them know that you see them clearly, and that you like what you see. It also gives them the message that they are of value, and knowing that others value you is a great esteem builder. However, as with the quality of respect, we may agree in principle that children need to be appreciated, but how do we do this?
Honor Their Uniqueness – This sounds wonderful, but this often causes many parents problems, simply because the traits that make children unique are often traits that make them difficult to live with. For example, a child who is very active may keep a house in a constant state of turmoil. Nevertheless, a dynamic will is a wonderful quality to have, and if you try to eliminate that quality from the child you will be extinguishing what makes him or her unique. Thus, instead of trying to eliminate a quality that you find disagreeable, let them know that you appreciate that quality, then help them find constructive channels for its expression.
Look For the Good and Acknowledge It – Positive reinforcement is a very powerful motivator. When your children do something good, let them know that you recognize what they did and how much you appreciate it. This not only raises their self-esteem, but it also encourages them to do more of the same in the future. However, it’s important that your acknowledgement be genuine and heartfelt, and not just spoken from concept. Of course, this means you have to be watching for the good that they do, rather than just noticing the bad, but you will find that paying attention to the good that is in them not only makes you appreciate them more, but also improves your outlook on other aspects of life as well. The basic principle here is this: Whatever you focus upon increases. Thus, if you focus upon the weaknesses or problems that children have, they will increase. If you focus upon their strengths or virtues, they will increase. I once taught a little girl who was in first grade, and I was always impressed by the concern that she showed for the other children. If anyone was hurt, she was the first to offer help. We had a wonderful relationship and learned a lot together, but I noticed that she would often be depressed when she first came to school in the morning. One day I met her mother and realized that she had a very different view of her daughter than I did. In her eyes, her daughter was sloppy and obstinate. She failed to notice all the finer qualities in her daughter, but chose to focus upon something that was unimportant by comparison. True, the girl wasn’t meticulous, but that was only because she had such a big heart, she couldn’t be bothered with seemingly unimportant details! However, by ignoring all of the beauty in her daughter and focusing upon that one trait, her mother had caused her to become obstinate, simply in order to defend herself. And, to my amazement, when the girl was around her mother, she became sloppy and obstinate, and her finer qualities were almost obscured. By looking for the good in her daughter, that mother could have been enjoying a wonderful relationship instead of spending her days fighting an obstinate child.
Don’t Compare Them With Others – As I mentioned earlier, every child is unique, and deserves to be treated as an individual. By comparing one child with another, you give the message there is one “right” way to be, and if they don’t happen to be that way, they have no recourse but to feel that they are failures. There is no “right” way to be, any more than there is one “right “ color in the rainbow. Each color, just as each child, is equally important and “right”, and by each color affirming its uniqueness and being fully what it is, we have the entire spectrum of color, which makes the world a much more interesting place to live. Can you say red is a better color than blue, or that green is a better color than yellow? Of course not. Colors are simply different from each other, not better or worse. In the same way, children (or adults) are not better or worse than each other, they are just different, and these differences are something to be appreciated and celebrated, because they are what makes us individuals.
Stay tuned for next week’s Part 3 – Challenge Them!