Chase, the father of a five-year-old girl as well as two boys, aged three and one, wrote to my husband and me asking how to build self-respect in his children. Chase read an ‘Ask the Rabbi’ answer we wrote on the topic of self-esteem vs. self-respect, but is looking for more practical advice – perfect fodder for this Practical Parenting column.
He writes, “I often tell my kids I’m proud of them and I appreciate them. I tell them of all the amazement I see in them. Would this be too much on the self-esteem track?”
You are in a wonderful position. You, and I assume your wife, are consciously thinking about how you communicate with your children and what you want them to value. You have a wonderful adventure ahead of you.
One-year-olds are naturally full of self-respect even though it sounds odd to think about them in that way. Self-respect follows achievement. Babies are constantly learning new skills and conquering challenges. We get excited when a baby starts walking or talking and they love the attention we bestow on them for doing so, but they would be excited even without us. Something within most children pushes them to get upright and move and thrills them when they master new abilities.
As our kids get older, we sometimes inadvertently dampen their internal excitement and make them reliant instead on our approval. Schools often do this when they tamp down the natural desire for knowledge and instead train students to focus on stickers or grades. Parents too, can diminish the joy in drawing a picture or building a tower by being overly effusive. Instead of looking to outdo her own creation, the child starts looking to get a bigger external response.