Tue, July 23

Marta Adelsman Column: Build your child's self-esteem

If you see a beautiful flower, you would most likely admire it instead of crushing it. Yet how many of you unknowingly crush the tender petals of self-esteem in your children or grandchildren?

Parents often make innocent mistakes in child rearing, not meaning to destroy their children’s self-confidence. Your parents probably modeled these same misguided behaviors in raising you, so it’s no wonder that you would repeat them.

One common error involves speaking disrespectfully to your children, both in words and tone of voice. This may take the form of criticizing, lecturing, punishing or talking down to them. You want your children to have respect for others, yet you model lack of respect for them by reprimanding, scolding, and shaming.

If they constantly hear what they’re doing “wrong” or what they need to improve, they develop an image of themselves as weak, incapable or unworthy. Instead of building self-esteem, you inadvertently foster disrespect and lack of courtesy in them.

I teach a communication tool called “acknowledgment,” which goes a long way toward increasing a child’s sense of self-confidence. With this tool, you catch them “being good.” Tell them when they do or say something that you appreciate. Then follow with “What that means to me is . . .” and let them know how their behavior makes your life better. They thus feel valued by you.

For example, you can say “Thank you, Billy. I really appreciate how quiet you were this morning. What that means to me is that it gave me a chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep.” Or “I appreciate how well you cleaned up the yard. That helped free up time for me to work in the garage.”

Another mistake occurs when you force your children to do your will. You mistakenly believe that this will make them responsible and independent adults. You insist that they play football when they would rather play in the band. Or you force them to eat certain foods for which they haven’t yet developed a taste. You might even make them fetch things for you, treating them like servants.

These parent behaviors only create resistance in children. Rather than supporting them to internalize responsibility, forcing them creates dependence on outside approval. It denies their own intuition or inner direction for their lives. Your job as a parent is to support them to listen for and to hear their own soul’s purpose.

A third mistake occurs when you consistently solve your children’s problems for them instead of supporting them to come to their own solutions. This, as well as doing their work for them, discourages reliance on their own abilities and skills. It undermines their sense of capability and lowers their self-esteem.

Instead, you can brainstorm with your children about possible solutions they see for a problem they encounter. Then support them to pick one solution to try. Set a time for evaluation to see how the solution has worked. If you offer anything at all, do so tentatively. “Have you considered trying this?”

I have much more to share with you on this topic than space allows. You can attend my “Chat ‘n’ Chew” discussion at Jerona Cafe on March 31, 9:45-11:00 a.m. Or you can attend a STEP (Systematic Training for Effective Parenting) class, or order their book, “The Parent’s Handbook,” from American Guidance Service.

Remember, you can support your child’s self-esteem most effectively when yours is intact.

To contact Dr. Marta: or (928) 451-9482