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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Self-Esteem Vs. Self-Respect

It seems like every parenting magazine or child-rearing book has at least one article or chapter devoted to nurturing self-esteem in your children.  Apparently, children are very delicate creatures who are prone to thinking little of themselves and it's up to us, as their parents, to build up their self-esteem.

Give me a break.

Children are born with more self-esteem than they can use in a lifetime.  Their whole universe revolves around them.  Which is good at first since their survival as infants depends on it.  When they get to be toddlers however, that self-esteem starts to get in the way of good behavior as they scream and throw tantrums, regardless of the well-being or sanity of those around them, in an attempt to get what they want when they want.  They are not concerned with those around them; #1 still comes first.  It's our job as parents, to mold those little egos into considerate, compassionate people.  We have to teach them NOT to put #1 first.  Self-esteem is not self-like, it is self-absorption.

Self-respect is completely different.  I know many children who have high self-esteem, but they don't respect themselves.  Self-esteem has to do with your thought process (I'm the best, I can do anything, etc.) while self-respect has to do with your actions (I respect myself enough to not get in a bad relationship, to keep out of trouble, etc.)

This is how I'm teaching my children to have self-respect versus self-esteem: 

  • Don't praise them excessively for every little thing they do.  The experts on self-esteem agree that if your child has put effort into something, you need to praise that effort and not correct them, for by doing so, you will crush their spirits.  Really?  Do you think their boss is going to feel the same way when they grow up?  In the real world, your child will be expected to do things correctly, will not be praised every time they do, and will have to accept constructive (or sometimes not constructive) criticism gracefully.  If they don't, they're not going to get very far and will be pretty unhappy with life.  Here's an example:  Every time Johnny colors a picture, makes something in the sandbox, learns a new skill, etc, his mother praises him repeatedly and doesn't point out any imperfections.  Johnny is not stupid, he knows that not everything he does is perfect.  After a while of being praised for everything including the not-so-great stuff, he will begin to doubt himself.  His mother tells him how wonderful he is no matter what he does, but she tells him that even when he doesn't do a wonderful job.  He begins to wonder if he can trust his mother's opinion and doubt that he really is doing such a great job after all.  But he can't let her down, and he's been told that he's the best, the most talented, the greatest at everything he does so he applies this to whatever venture he tries.  But no matter what he does, there will always be that nagging doubt in the back of his mind, "Am I really so good at this?"  Children often become what we tell them they are, and so he will want to believe that he is.  When someone comes along who is better than him or when he fails at something, it will crush his spirit, the same spirit his mother so vainly tried to build up.  He will try to compensate for his failures by bragging about himself and generally, his mother is more than willing to help out in that aspect.  Pretty soon his friends don't like being around him because he simply HAS to be better at everything than them.  Johnny's mother will also begin to lose friends because every time they get together, she has to top everything the other parents can say about their own children. You do have to let children know that you believe in them and that you know they can do a great job, but you also have to let them get used to the idea that sometimes things just won't work out, and that there will be someone who is better than them. For instance, Princess likes to help me fold laundry.  If I followed the advice of experts, I would praise her efforts and not correct them.  But I want her to be able to handle criticism.  When she folds a shirt in a way that will wrinkle excessively and hands it to me, I tell her that we will have to try it a different way.  I gently help her unfold and refold it.  When we're done, she always looks proud of herself and will usually thank me for showing her how to do it.  When we're done folding laundry, I give her a big hug and tell her thank you for being such a good helper and learner.
  • I don't wait on my kids hand and foot.  I've seen many mothers do this and every time, the children come out self-centered and believing that they deserve to be waited on.  Okay, now what happens if they marry someone whose mother also waited on them hand and foot?  Unless one or both of the partners change their outlook, the marriage will be unhappy and will more than likely end up in divorce.  Our first priority should not be ourselves, it needs to be others.  When you have a society where #1 comes first, you have a lot of suffering and unhappiness since everyone is so focused on themselves that they don't stop to help others.  Jesus gave us the perfect example of having a servant's heart in John 13:4-9.  He and His disciples had just walked a long distance on dusty roads and, since they wore sandals, their feet were dirty.  It was the servants' or slaves' job at the time to wash the feet of guests at a home, but Jesus Himself knelt before His disciples to wash their feet before attending to his own needs.  To be honest, I'm pretty self-centered.  But I recently read a book called "Created to Be His Helpmeet" by Debi Pearl and since then, I've been striving to put my husband's needs and wants before my own.  And not only does this obviously make him happier, but it makes me happier as well.  When we teach our children to wait on others instead of being waited on themselves, they will be happier too. 
  • And the biggest one...Respect yourself.  Children most often learn by example and not by word.  If you lie to the store clerk, your children will lie to you.  If you badtalk people behind their back, you can be sure your children will be critical of others as well.  If you respect yourself enough to make good decisions and take care of yourself, they will do the same for themselves.  This will equip them to be able to withstand peer pressure, stand up for their rights, and make healthy choices. 

Obviously, not all the advice on self-esteem is bad.  Things such as loving them unconditionally, giving them your full-attention when they're talking to you, and encouraging them are crucial to a child growing up to be a happy and stable adult.  However, the emphasis needs to be on self-respect, not self-esteem.

1 comment:

  1. Great words of thought!

    We live in a me society today! So far from the biblical principles that Jesus demonstrated.


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