How to boost your child's self-esteem the right way - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

How to boost your child's self-esteem the right way

When parents overpraise, kids lose their ability to feel good about themselves on their own. © iStockphoto.com/Miroslav Ferkuniak When parents overpraise, kids lose their ability to feel good about themselves on their own. © iStockphoto.com/Miroslav Ferkuniak


By Peg Rosen
 

We all want our kids to feel good about themselves. But swooning over them at every turn won't do the job. "When parents overpraise, they wear out the power of it. Kids can also become dependent on constant praise and lose motivation when it stops," says Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. The answer, of course, isn't to ignore all the good stuff. It's to save praise for when it's warranted, and focus on what really matters. Here, some smart strategies that will help kids become more accomplished, resilient and successful in life.

Your preteen daughter emerges from her room looking particularly lovely. Her outfit is snappy, there's even a tinge of gloss on her lips. Do you compliment her looks? Of course, we don't want to overemphasize the importance of looks. "But when a kid makes an effort to take care of herself, it's worth saying something," says clinical psychologist Paul J. Donahue, author of Parenting Without Fear: Letting Go of Worry and Focusing on What Really Matters. What's important is acknowledging your daughter's efforts to make the most of her appearance. For example, you could say, "the way you applied that eye shadow really brings out the blue in your eyes." Raving about her physical characteristics -- how she has the most gorgeous blue eyes anywhere or about her luminous face -- may lead her to think these traits are what give her value. "And if at some point she believes she has lost this innate beauty, she will have a very hard time recovering," says Dweck.

Your 5-year-old son gives grandma a super-big hug when she arrives at the house for a visit. There are some things, like greeting a guest, that are to be expected and generally don't warrant an awards ceremony. But a no-brainer for one kid might be a heroic effort for another, so it's important to award praise subjectively. "If you know your child is a little fearful, perhaps because grandma is ill and doesn't look so great, and you know it took something extra for him to reach out, it's worth acknowledging that," says Donahue. When you do, try to focus on the how your son's effort affected his grandma -- the smile it brought to her face, for example -- instead of on how fantastic and wonderful you think he is.

Your 10-year-old drama queen really was the star of her school musical. Truth told, she could be the next Vanessa Hudgens! If your child truly has done something terrific, by all means gush -- you certainly don't want her turning to everyone but her own parents for positive feedback. Especially for talented kids, though, it's important to focus on process as opposed to innate talent or star power. "No one is doing a child a favor by telling them they have ‘IT,' because it's basically telling them they can coast on their talent and don't have to work," says Dweck. Praise instead the emotion she brought to her part, how all that time memorizing her lines really paid off, how she really lived up to her starring role, etc. There's no need, however, to declare her Best in Show. "Telling her she's the best implies you're judging her. And as parents, we should be appreciators and guides, but not judges," says Dweck.

Your middle school son's report card is nothing to sneeze at -- mostly A's and some B's. But you know he didn't put in his all this quarter. Do you applaud him nonetheless? You can certainly start out by saying something positive, like acknowledging his grades are good. But at this age, kids should be starting to take pride in their own work. So it's perfectly reasonable to throw the ball back in his court. Ask him what he thought of his grades and if he feels good about the work he did during the quarter. "You don't want to be the parent coming down hard on a kid who doesn't get straight A's. But if he's not effusive about what he's accomplished, there's no reason you should be either," says Donahue.

Peg Rosen Peg Rosen has contributed to numerous magazines and Web sites, including More, Self, Redbook, Real Simple, Parents, Family Circle, American Baby, Parentcenter and WebMd. She blogs at Relish-This.Blogspot.com.

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