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School-age children, and even teenagers, have a limited range of behaviors available to let the adults in their lives know that something is wrong.  AD/HD, anxiety, depression, and learning difficulties often look the same behaviorally.  A full evaluation identifies the underlying issues causing the distress so that effective interventions can be implemented.

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Saturday
Dec242011

Self-Esteem Is Not a Gift

Parenting in 2009 is really hard – even my mother says so. Every decision is scrutinized and “what’s best” for the child seems to always be the goal. What ever happened to Winnicott’s notion of a “good-enough mother”? I ask this because there is so much angst in parenting today. What are we worrying about? Why are we trying to make all of the “best” decisions?

It’s all about “self-esteem.” Seems like a good goal, but people are going about it in really strange ways. All too often I hear things like:

  • Too much competition can hurt self-esteem.
  • Being the youngest in a class can be hard for him.
  • Being the oldest/biggest/strongest boy will make him more confident.
  • Taking “enrichment” classes after school will make her feel smarter.

Really? The older/bigger/stronger kids know they have an advantage. The younger/smaller/wiry kids know they have to work harder, be more diligent, or run faster to effectively compete. We’re not fooling anyone. I’m all for providing help when help is needed, but what about providing challenges as learning opportunities?

My two oldest children are VERY different from one another, but I’ve seen this self-esteem machine in action with them both. My oldest, doesn’t like to sweat. But, she attended swim lessons weekly from the time she was 3, worked hard, and earned a series of ribbons, culminating in the Gold Ribbon (think Holy Grail) just before she turned 7. This meant that she had mastered all 4 major swim strokes, a long underwater swim, and a racing dive. The pride she felt and displayed was driven from within and so much stronger than anything resulting from praise. She accomplished something difficult and she knew it – her self-esteem blossomed. By contrast, my son is a natural athlete. He could bounce down a trampoline at 18-months and the training wheels came off his bike 2-weeks after he turned 4 (and boy was he proud). The summer when he was 5, my emotionally intense, often in-trouble son, grew in strength, pride, and self-esteem by running hard, working as a member of a team, and doing his best at camp in sports activities with kids older than him. His coaches and counselors had high (but within reach) expectations and he met them. He clearly felt good about himself and his behavior much more under control (almost like a car after a major service by an awesome mechanic).

With “good-enough” parenting and high expectations, our kids can blossom. Children feel good about themselves when they are challenged, work hard, and accomplish something that makes them feel proud. Self-esteem must be earned – It is not a gift and it cannot be given.

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