Esteem-building in Children Produces Successful Adults
By Janet Muirhead Hill
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather by ruined by praise than to be saved by criticism. Norman Vincent Peale
Nice outfit, Good thinking, Well done, Beautiful picture! Delicious meal! All are nice words to hear. On the other hand: Your fly is open, You need to brush—your breath is overpowering, or I think you missed the mark with your composition. I found it ambiguous and repetitive, These are comments that are not as easy to hear, but have the potential of saving us.
Constructive criticism is more beneficial to the receiver than all of the platitudes in the world…if they are accepted without umbrage. If you tell me my clothing is undone, my breath stinks, or that my writing lacks focus, I can fix the problem so that I don’t embarrass myself, offend others, or fail in my creative goals. The compliments, on the other hand, do nothing to stimulate change. And change is necessary for personal growth.
Grown ups should be able to absorb criticism and apply it constructively or, if it doesn’t fit, discard it without rancor. Whether or not we can depends largely on our level of self-confidence. An adult who blames others for his or her mistakes and feelings, who takes offense at criticism, and who constantly seeks praise from others are exposing feelings of insecurity. How often do you say things like: How do you like my work? Am I doing okay? Did you like the gift I gave you? Did you see what I did? and Do you love me? Do you turn every subject into a discussion about you? Of course we all do it now and then; often it’s appropriate. Recognizing the extent to which we exhibit egocentric tendencies will help us pinpoint our own insecurities. Pay attention to how much you talk about yourself. Notice your feelings when you receive criticism. Do you verbally or mentally blame others for problems in your life? If so, you may have unresolved issues from childhood that gave you a low self-esteem.
The Child Development Institute declares, “Self-esteem is a major key to success in life.” Here are the differences it can make in a child’s life; differences that acontinue into adulthood..
According to the Child Development Institute’s website, a child with healthy self-esteem will:
• act independently
• assume responsibility
• take pride in his accomplishments
• tolerate frustration
• attempt new tasks and challenges
• handle positive and negative emotions
• offer assistance to others
On the other hand, a child with low self-esteem will:
• avoid trying new things
• feel unloved and unwanted
• blame others for his own shortcomings
• feel, or pretend to feel, emotionally indifferent
• be unable to tolerate a normal level of frustration
• put down his own talents and abilities
• be easily influenced
Parents, teachers, peers and society shape a child’s self-esteem. Of these, parents have the largest influence and the greatest opportunity to foster a healthy self-confidence in their children. As in my case, a child’s parents may be loving and well intentioned, and still foster a low-self esteem through ignorance about healthy child development. (Yes, exhibited symptoms of the second group (above) until years of therapy helped me gain enough self-esteem to manage my crippling inferiority complex.)
Praise is important in early childhood…and so is criticism as long as it does not take the form of shame or ridicule. It is important to target the behavior, not the child’s character in both praise and criticism. I like the way you cleaned your room. You did a great job of putting everything in its place, rather than, You are a good boy for cleaning your room, (implying he would be a bad boy if he hadn’t). I like your room much better when you put your clothes in the hamper instead of leaving them on the floor, rather than, Look at this mess! You drive me crazy when I see what a lazy slob you are.
NEVER label a child, and NEVER blame children (or anyone else) for your feelings. Teach them, instead, that every person is responsible for his or her own feelings, and that “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent,” as Eleanor Roosevelt said.
Children tend to fulfill a parent’s expectations of them. A mother who tells her son that he will never amount to anything because he is a lazy bum is furnishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because a child believes what a parent tells him, he will no doubt become a lazy bum. A child who believes, because his parents believe, that he will succeed in whatever avocation he chooses, surely will. A pre-med student I knew in college had no doubt that she would succeed in her chosen profession. Her parents let her know at an early age that she could become whatever she wanted to be. When she chose medicine, they gave her their full support with never the slightest doubt that she would become one of the best doctors in her chosen field. Another self-fulfilling prophecy that came true.
Within safe limits, allow children to experiment, problem solve, and to “do it myself.” That’s how they learn to trust and rely upon their intelligence and capabilities. Hugs, winks, cuddling, talking, sharing story time, listening to, and laughing with children help them to know they are loved and therefore loveable. Children who develop self-love and self-trust will grow up to be responsible, confident adults who accomplish great things. They will neither be devastated by criticism nor ruined by praise.