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Do our kids have too much self esteem?


Do our kids have too much self esteem

I remember being berated by a fellow parent because I had not attended my son’s fifth grade graduation day.  The friend  had taken the day off from a hectic work week, and had gone to school early with his SLR camera and various lenses, the better to take pictures of his daughter’s big day.  And here was me, a bad mother who had forgotten all about the ‘big’ day!  I was quite remorseful, although the careful questioning of my son later led me to believe that his self-esteem was none too damaged by my absence.  In my defense, I can only say that in my time, we graduated just once,and not several times in our school life –  kindergarten to first grade, primary to middle school etc – so these ‘graduation days’ did not register to me as important.

Today, kids are celebrated for every small thing, that was once considered unremarkable just a generation ago.  Go to a school day, and it seems as if every kid is receiving a prize for something or the other. In sports,  it used to be that the kid who reached the finish line first got a prize – now every kid gets a prize: for participation, sometimes just for showing up.  From the days of the stern, authoritative parent and teacher of yore, we have swung to the opposite end, and today we praise kids for every little thing they do, however insignificant. “You finished your lunch – wonderful!”  “Great job on the swings and slides!”  Huh?

While we definitely want our kids to have a healthy self-esteem, praising indiscriminately is not the way to go about it. High self-esteem  should be based on positive behaviours and genuine accomplishments, on achievements obtained though hard work and effort. We don’t want our kids to have a false sense of esteem, that needs outside praise to feel good; we need to build in them a strong internal sense of worth. And this can be developed only through genuine achievement.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be positive and encouraging – but we must not let praise become a drug, something that the kids need, and can’t function without. How can we do this as parents?  I read a nice quote from Dr Allan Josephson, MD, chairman of the Family Committee of the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, that I thought I’d share with you. He says, “Self-esteem certainly is important. But we’ve developed this misguided notion that parents should continually reward and praise their children. That doesn’t work either. Healthy self-esteem comes from having parents who are physically and emotionally available, and who set appropriate limits on their [children’s] behaviour, and then help them develop autonomy. It should be a by-product of a healthy relationship with a child, not the goal.”

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Gayatri Kulkarni is on the ParentEdge Editorial Panel. Her children have studied in the Indian ICSE, the International Baccalaureate and American school systems – giving her a ringside view of the pros and cons of all three systems. She has a multicultural approach to education and is interested in learning methods that stimulate a lifelong love for learning.


8 thoughts on “Do our kids have too much self esteem?

  1. Syamala

    Glad to see this article. I agree with you. I had been the odd mother there, accused many times for being stingy in terms of praising my kid, which is not supposed to be the accepted way of parenting. Glad to say, my child, who will soon be 18, now appreciates that she was not praised and celebrated for every little things, unlike her friends. That was good to hear. :-)

    Since as a parent, I was a little worried whether I was right. I could not fake my attitude either, since children can sense if the praise is not genuine.

    Reply
  2. Crunch

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I just relocated to Bangalore from the US a month back and one of the things I’d constantly hear there from my mommy friends there in California was this: “Don’t just tell your child they are doing a good job or are great all the time. Tell them what exactly they are doing well and why. So don’t say good job or great – looking at a painting they did. Say wow that parrot looks really cool. Especially the wings you seem to have drawn the wings really well. We could maybe tweak the beak and the eyes a little bit can I show you?” Of course, this is 2.5 yr old or 4 yr old speak (my girl is 2.5 hence the example). Fill in with your own examples for diff ages.

    We’re raising a generation of children that have tons of opportunities to become millionaires overnight. You write one mobile app that succeeds and there!!! Suddenly you are a rockstar with tons of money. Or you win some TV show somewhere or create a silly video on youtube (copy Kolaveri in Hindi and make your toddler sing it!) and you’re an overnight sensation. Money and fame come easy with each generation. I totally agree with you that we should probably start putting meaningful recognition and ways to boost confidence than the meaningless praise and false sense of security these new praise strategies are putting in place. The question of course is who’s talking to these schools and how?

    Crunch
    http://arushofbloodtotheheadnow.wordpress.com/

    Reply
    1. Gayatri

      Thanks for stopping by, Crunch!
      I agree with you – praise should be specific, directed at the child’s abilities and efforts rather than a mere”you’re so clever” and should recognize the effort and not a quality – ‘I see you have taken a lot of trouble to draw those wings,” instead of a “you are a great artist!”

      Reply
  3. Kritika Srinivasan

    Good one Gayatri – blunt and truthful! :)

    By praising the child overly not only are we teaching them to depend of extrinsic rewards rather than intrinsic motivation, but in time, they will find it difficult to differentiatie genuine praise from mere flattery to keep them happy (a much-needed skill in the real adult world). Besides of course feeling that praise is their birthright and being upset when any errors or faults in their work are pointed out!

    Reply
    1. Gayatri

      I’m glad you liked the post, Kritika.I agree, many kids today feel praise is their birthright, but I think it should be earned.

      Reply
  4. Meera

    great piece and really made me reflect –I agree with you ..by praising children for trivial accomplishments we will encourage a false sense of “high self esteem” and they will struggle when they are in the real world…
    the difficulty is getting the balance!

    Reply

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