Self EsteemLess than one hundred years ago in this country, young people who proved themselves diligent and hardworking were rewarded, and those who didn’t, were punished.

In those days, children fell over themselves to earn the approval of adults. Funny how things have changed. Now, it seems, parents are falling over themselves to earn the approval of their children.

Teachers are required to be “fair”, and all children must be rewarded, regardless of their performance. And the reason, of course, is obvious. We wouldn’t ever want to damage any child’s self-esteem.

Self esteem is the buzz word of this decade of parents; as it should be. We want children to have a sense of inner worth; a belief about self as being something important and valuable. And yet, it seems to me, that some parents, in their efforts to cushion their child from any form of pain and suffering, are in reality, undermining the development of self esteem rather than building it.

To understand the roots and development of self esteem, let us first examine and define the word “esteem”. By definition, to esteem is to hold important and worthy of respect.

I ask you: who do you esteem? Perhaps your favorite actor, sports hero, historical figure, religious or social leader. In all likelihood, the subject of your esteem possesses a good amount of raw talent, and has demonstrated hard work and persistence that have accomplished great things, and earned your respect.

The same is true of self esteem. Self-esteem thrives when an individual recognizes his or her strengths and then works to develop himself into someone of accomplishment.

In short, self-esteem evolves from:

  1. identification of inherent strengths
  2. self-discipline

A young man I know, Joey* grew up knowing he was very talented. He was always popular and well liked by his friends, and was gifted with above-average intelligence. He was told many times that a bright future awaited him, and he believed it as well, knowing how very talented he was. Joey began college with high hopes for a brilliant career, but he found the experience more frustrating than anything else. The school work was demanding, and no one was patting him on the back for good grades the way they’d done in high school. Unsatisfied, Joey decided to change his major after only one semester. He changed majors several times after that, and never found the one “magic” field that was really worthy of his brilliance. Frustrated and disillusioned, Joey dropped out of college. He became very depressed, and wondered why his life, once full of promise, had gone so badly wrong.

Joey had part one down pat. He was able to identify his strengths quite well. It was part two, self-discipline, which was missing, with disastrous results.

As parents, we often succeed in helping our children identify their strengths. It is part two that is the more difficult labor. It takes a lifetime of work to teach self-discipline to a child. The parent must model this virtue by working hard and persisting at worthwhile endeavors. The parent should share these stories with the child, at her level, in a way she can understand. The parent must communicate this message again and again, in many different ways.

And the parent must set limits for the child, with natural rewards and consequences, so that the child learns to delay gratification and employ self-discipline.

This is the way to achieve true self esteem.