self-esteem

Giving Challenges Builds Self Esteem

Portrait of a beautiful liitle girl close-up

A foundation piece of self-esteem is a child’s growing sense of skills and abilities. Are they being challenged? Are they learning new things?

An easy way to build this in is giving challenges in play. If they are building with blocks, challenge them to build it taller. If they are climbing, challenge them to do it in a new way. If they are playing with play-doh, challenge them to make some new creation. As they rise to meet the challenge in play, they are learning to take on challenges in life.

Another way to provide this is to enroll them in classes that provide new levels of challenges as they progress. This would include sports, musical instruments, cooking classes and foreign languages.

For self esteem, it can be helpful to focus most on their individual progress and their skills rather than the competition.

Once they are school age, a version of this would be to have them teach you one new thing they learned in school each week. This is a challenge to remember something and be able to explain it in detail to you. For challenges to be beneficial in this way overtime, they don’t have to be big. These can be small challenges given regularly.

(Why I Will) NEVER Shop at Abercrombie & Fitch Again

I am the mom of two daughters. Claire is 12 years old, and Alicen is 15. They are both active, healthy, fun-loving and kind. They have great friends. Among other things like volleyball and playing guitar, Alicen enjoys shopping and I enjoy taking her. After reading an online article about the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mike Jefferies’s ideas about shaping his brand, we will never be shopping there again. Please, read for yourself: http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he-hates-fat-chicks/. A few highlights include that he “doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing” and, “fat chicks will just never be a part of the ‘in’ crowd.” To ensure they stay out of his store, A & F only offers women’s clothes through size 10.

If Jefferies were 14 years old, he would be a bully. But he is not a 14 year old student, he is a 69 year old CEO of a clothing store that markets to preteen through college students. He is a powerful man that supports social bullying and exclusion between our students through a horrible corporate culture. His business tactics tell our daughters that they are less valuable if they wear a size 12. This makes him an ass.

While my girls are typically more concerned about what looks good and feels comfortable for clothing, this was enough to push them over the edge as well. They agree, there are too many other places to get them great clothes than to spend another dollar with a company that allows and encourages these ugly ideas.

Helping a Child Be Resilient

Hi Dr. Rene,

My two-and-a-half-year-old is going through a lot of the typical two year old stuff. He has a growing imagination, talks lots, tests boundaries and is experiencing new fears. I am taking this all in stride, but I do find myself thinking that he doesn’t seem very resilient. He seems so sensitive to small pains, slights and annoyances. He is also pretty tuned in to loud noises, new tastes and textures. I don’t expect him to manage on his own or become resilient overnight, but I’d love tips on how to help him better weather the little upsets.

Sincerely,

Diane

Dear Diane,

Thanks for the question. It’s a big one. There are many ways to help build resiliency across childhood. I apologize for this list, most of the bullet points represent what should be a whole book of content. For now, give lots of empathy and teach problem solving at every turn. When you can, focus on problem solving in the moment. If he is too upset, remember to go back later and discuss or brainstorm what could have happened for a better outcome.

  • Model and Encourage Optomism – If you are an optomistic person, this is an easy one. Unfortunately, if you are a pessimist, this can be near impossible. The idea is to model looking on the bright side, focusing on solutions and having faith things can be resolved.
  • Use Descriptive and Avoid Evaluative Praise – Evaluative praise to avoid sounds like, “good job,” “you are such a good boy,” “that was great,” “thank you so much,” “I really like that,” “I like the way you…,” and, “I am so proud of you.” Descriptive praise to use sounds like, “you handed a block, that was helpful,” and, “you waited while mommy was speaking, that was patient.” This means to describe the behavior, and then give it a related label.
  • Focus Your Discipline on the Behavior NOT the Child – This means using ‘I messages’ and avoiding ‘you messages’ as you enter into a discipline exchange. When a child runs through the living room and knocks over your lamp, it’s saying “I’m angry, my lamp is broken,” or, “I’m frustrated, people are running in the house.” It’s avoiding, “I am mad at you, you broke my lamp,” or, “I’m frustrated, you always run in the house.” I messages label emotions and blame the behavior or the situation not the child.
  • Learn Scaffolding – Scaffolding is the language of problem solving. When you help a four-year-old with a new puzzle, or a fourth grader working on hard math, your language and approach is your scaffolding. There is a review of effective scaffolding guidelines in this previous post: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/?s=scaffolding.
  • Avoid Rescuing – This is a difficult one to practice when your child is a toddler, but it’s important to keep in mind as they grow. If they steal a trinket from a store, have them return it rather than doing it for them. If they purposefully break a toy, avoid replacing it.
  • Teach Decision Making and Offer Choices – Allowing greater decision making is a gradual process. At two years old they might decide what snack to have, at four years old what toy to buy, at six years old what clothes to wear, at eight years old what sports to play and at ten years old what instrument to learn. Of course, you are providing guidance as needed, but focus on teaching them how to make decisions rather than making decisions for them.
  • Positive Attitude Towards Learning and School – The idea is to build a “home-school connection,” so the child grows up feeling my parents value my school, and my school welcomes my parents. Read to them everyday, know what they are learning about in school and participate as a room mom and in extracurricular activities. Check their homework, teach them to study and meet their teachers.
  • Check and Build Social Skills – A child’s sense of social connectedness and acceptance from others is a big part of their developing self esteem which overlaps strongly with resiliency. In childhood, social competence is defined loosely as the ability to play while keeping friends. If play isn’t going well on a regular basis for your child, step back and check their social skills. Work together to improve as needed. This includes their conflict resolution skills. Friends also provide a social network to cushion the blows of life.
  • Focus On and Develop Talents – A second foundation of self esteem is a child’s growing sense of skills and abilities. Look for their strengths and provide opportunities to build their talents.
  • Provide Downtime – The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children have a minimum of an hour of downtime everyday. Downtime is truely unstructured, go play time. This can be with other children as long as it’s by choice and child led.
  • Sense of Faith or Spirituality – Not one better than another, but children raised with a sense of faith or spirituality tend to be more resilient in the face of life stressors.

As a side note, your descriptions, “he seems so sensitive to small pains, slights and annoyances. He is also pretty tuned in to loud noises, new tastes and textures,” lend themselves to possible sensory concerns. This could easily be well within normal limits and not an issue. If this continues to be the pattern or seems worse overtime, you might read The Out of Sync Child by Kranowitz, or take a consultation with a pediatric occupational therapist. Either will also give you additional ideas about resiliency more related to sensory processing. Please let me know if you have additional questions about this.

Please enjoy this link to an article about building resiliency written by the American Academy of Pediatrics: www.healthychildren.org.  –  http://www.healthychildren.org/english/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/pages/Building-Resilience-in-Children.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR%3a+No+local+token

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Want Kids to Listen? Stop Repeating Yourself!

It’s an all too familiar scenario…

Mom is almost ready to leave, children are still coloring in the kitchen. Mom says, “hey, time to get your shoes on, and could you turn off the tv, please?” Mom keeps moving to put the breakfast dishes in the sink. Children ignore mom’s request and keep coloring. Mom walks over to gather her things, turns off the tv herself and says, “really, get your shoes.  We gotta go.” Children continue coloring. One child looks up briefly, sees mom looking through her purse and checking her phone, so back to coloring. Mom, without looking up says, “shoes.” Mom, putting on her coat snaps, “shoes now! (five seconds pass) That’s one….(five seconds), two….(five seconds), do you hear me? I am counting! GET YOUR SHOES!” Crayons drop, kids move towards shoes. 

Parent asks child to do something. Child ignores request. Parent repeats request. Child ignores. Parent escalates. Child ignores. Parent, who was initially calm, loses it and yells. Child listens and moves into action. Parent is frustrated that child doesn’t listen.

The unfortunate thing if you are in this cycle is you are actually teaching your child to NOT listen. By repeating the request, you are directly teaching them to tune you out. The child is learning that, when you start talking, you are going to say it two or three more times, so they wait. They learn that they have at least a few more minutes from the first request before they have to listen. They learn you are unpredictable, sometimes you really mean it, and sometimes you just don’t, so they watch.

To break the habit of repeating yourself, you have to make a new habit. The idea is to say it once, and then expect them to listen. Accept that at least initially, you may have to move into action and help them to listen. You may have to help them at first because together you’ve created the pattern of tuning out. So let’s say you buy in, and starting now, decide to say things once and expect children to listen. For starters, the new pattern is going to fail. Tomorrow morning, you get their attention and very clearly say, “it’s time to go. Put on your shoes, please.” They are not likely to listen as listening the first time is not the familiar habit. Rather than repeat and frustrate yourself, move into action. Take child to shoes, or take shoes to child, and get them started. You can still give them choices about which pair of shoes or which step to sit on. You can give them a challenge to put them on before you sing the alphabet. You can still be polite and say please. The point is, you can still talk, just avoid the repeated asking them to put on their shoes again. Hopefully you will be less frustrated. Even if you have to stop what you are doing to help, at least you only said it once.

Have faith that you are building a new and better habit. It should only take a few weeks before a six-year-old starts to realize, “oh, you are only going to say things once. You actually expect me to listen.” With a two-year-old, it can take until they are three, but it is a far better habit to be in as a parent, to say things once and expect listening than to start down the path of repeating to be ignored.

We had a mom in class who said, “I get this, but it’s crazy. I must say 16 times every morning, ‘put on your shoes.’ No one is listening to me, but I”m making four lunches, and I’ve got four boys running amok, and you want me to stop making lunch.” Yes, I either want her to stop making lunches and help them listen, OR, better yet, save her breath and wait until she is done making lunches, and then gather everyone to ask them to put on shoes. Wait until you are in a position to move into action and expect listening. In her current habit she is directly teaching them to tune her out 16 times, making the rest of her day that much harder. Clearly there is a need to change the habit.

America’s Supernanny Tired and Confused

I really wanted to like the new America’s Supernanny program on Lifetime. I had high hopes that the Supernanny would share valuable information with families about positive discipline and child development issues. Afterall, they advertise her as “saving families” and providing families “guidance and assistance on how to best raise their children.” I’ve tuned in for two of the first four shows and been greatly disappointed.

In both episodes, the big discipline reveal is her technique, the Calm Down Corner. The Supernanny touts it as an opportunity for the child to think about their behavior, to learn to calm themselves, to self-regulate. She then instructs the parent to repeatedly state the child’s misbehavior while taking them back to the Corner up to 105 times in the second episode. The child is laughing and dodging mom, then kicking and crying while she carries him back. This is not a child reflecting on his behavior, he is playing a frustrating game of chase. Eventually, at least, mom wins. The child wears out and sits quietly for three minutes. Mom restates for the 106th time, “You were in the Calm Down Corner for not listening.” Directions stated in the negative tend to backfire as the child is learning not listening gets a whole lot of attention. In action this is nothing but a renamed and poorly executed time-out.

A child’s sense of self esteem is an outcome measure based largely on their growing sense of skills and abilities and their social connectedness. While the discipline taught isn’t much, the Supernanny’s parent coaching on a child’s self-esteem was against the research at best. I watched as she moved through a conversation with a nine-year-old girl surrounding issues of self esteem. Supernanny asked the child to look in the mirror and rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how pretty she feels. The girl rated herself a 5, and then went on to add with make-up she’s a 7. Supernanny then talked to mom about how pretty her daughter feels and mom followed up with a conversation about feeling pretty. There is so much wrong with this it is hard to know where to start. Not only is it off about the foundations of self esteem, focusing on positive labels in all the conversations in the long run can diminsh the child’s sense of self. It is so discouraging to think of how many parents walked away from that show to have similar conversations with their own children. Presenting content which is clearly misinformed at the national level is irresponsible.

To me, the upsides of the shows, including getting parents to communicate with and support each other and getting the family to spend time together, aren’t worth the downsides.

Self-Esteem Tips – The Easy Way

Go deep in their interests. If your child is excited about dinosaurs, go to the dinosaur museum, get the dinosaur books, puppets and videos, learn about paleontology online or go on a fossil dig.

Share your own interests. If you are a gardener, get them in the garden with you, or get them a children’s gardening kit. They know it’s important to you, and now you are sharing with them.

Play with them. Play is their number one job through six years old, join them! Don’t know how? Take a wider look at play. Play includes pretend play, dress-up, arts and crafts, board games, building blocks, movement games, sing-alongs, word play, floortime and more.

Give them lots of social opportunity and coach when needed. A piece of self-esteem is feeling socially connected. Give children opportunities to develop good social and play skills often. If things aren’t going well, look at why and work on it.

Keep them challenged, but not overwhelmed. If your child is managing 10 piece puzzles now, think 20 piece puzzles soon. If they are reading books with three sentences on a page, think six sentences. Constantly be thinking of the next step, but go just a bit harder, so you don’t overwhelm.

To learn more about this and other information about children’s self-esteem, join me for an evening workshop on Self-Esteem, Wednesday May 11 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. To learn more and register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Building Confidence

  • Provide challenges in play – Challenges in play give children practice at rising to the occassion, at testing their skills and trying new things. When they are building with blocks, challenge them to build taller. When they are working on mazes, challenge them to go faster. The more opportunity to meet new goals, the more confident they become to try the next.
  • Support them just enough – When children struggle, give hints and suggestions rather than outright answers. Try to give them just enough to get back on track and moving forward. Avoid doing fully for them.
  • The goal is often independence – When you are working through with children, focus on teaching them about your thought process and decision making. Encourage them to step back, brainstorm, try new avenues to problem solve. The goal of helping children with a task is increased independence the next go around.
  • Check social skills – Children who struggle socially are at a disadvantage for many other tasks. It is hard to concentrate on soccer skills if you are worried you are not accepted by teammates. It is hard to focus on second grade math if you just had a miserable time at recess. Keep social skills in check.
  • Focus on skill building not competition – Especially under six years old (likely through eight), athletics are about learning the basics of a sport. They are about learning to throw and catch and the vocabulary of the game. Focus on skills building long before a focus on competition.
  • I messages not You messages in discipline – I messages target behavior; You messages target the child. Shift from blaming child to blaming behavior. Say, “I am frustrated; no one is listening,” rather than, “I am frustrated with you; you never listen.” The first child feels badly about the not listening, and the second feels badly about self.
  • Descriptive not evaluative praise – In praise, focus on the behavior as well. Describe the behavior and label it. Say something like, “you practiced that song all week and learned every note,” or, “you remembered they were waiting for a turn, how kind.” Avoid, “good job,” “good boy,” “that was great,” or, “I like the way you,” as it is evaluative. There are a few good examples of this difference at http://www.monkeysee.com/play/4189-what-are-some-examples-of-each-type-of-praise.
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