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Self-Esteem – Does Your Child Have It?

And Why Gold Stars, Stickers & Bribes Do Not Work!
By Dr. Roxanne Daleo

Do you believe your child will become a leader because she makes straight A’s on her report card? Do you think a shopping spree at the Mall or date at the nail salon spa will improve her self-concept?

These and other questions came to my mind when I recently counseled parents whose 7th grade daughter compelled them to reward her for good grades. They told me each of them told their daughter how proud they were but also decided to award her ten dollars for each A; she earned five out of six subjects.

I ask you, do you think rewards will motivate your child toward such attributes as happiness, pride and self-confidence? How do we cultivate prosocial behavior helping our child develop virtues of kindness, generosity and excellence toward themselves and others? Behaviors that foster the idea: there is value in aiming for the greater good of all concerned as opposed to self-serving, ego-centric behavior? Currently the trend is more toward: “what’s in it for me?” mentality.

Do you notice the more you bribe your child, the more demanding, inflexible and intolerable she gets?

I believe only someone who has a strong sense of self can lead others. A leader knows the greater good of the whole. A leader has clarity and holds that clear vision in front of the group. A leader motivates others to work together as a “unit”, a team, a family. A leader has the ability to redirect the team when necessary in order to stay on course. A leader has qualities of self-confidence, full self-expression and competence. Most important, a leader is capable of balance between esteem and humility.

The reason gold stars, stickers and bribes do not work is because these are based on extrinsic measures to motivate a child rather than motivating intrinsically from an inner drive. Extrinsic rewards depend on outside forces. Parents and teachers rule and hold the standard of conduct rather than intrinsic reward which inspires conduct for its own sake. This gives the individual a feeling of pride because he feels good about himself.

Does your child feel good about herself? How do you know? How do you keep that feeling going as your child meets greater and greater challenges?

To answer these questions, let’s get back to our 7th grader who received ten dollars per “A” on her report card. Don’t you know, she was thrilled! Then the next day, realizing she had a test in French which she only rated a “B” average, she decided to cut class in dance, put in more study time in order to ace her French test.

Am I the only stickler here or can you also see there’s something wrong with this way of thinking? You trade off one bad habit for another when you bribe your child to get an “A” at all costs. In fact, you are creating loss somewhere else. In this case, it’s a lack of respect for the commitment to the dance class and poor time management because of distorted priorities,
judgement is off which leads to dysfunctional behaviors.

Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so, the most powerful learning mechanism is consequences. There is a cause and effect to everything in life. It’s one of the laws of the Universe, called karma. Karma acts like a boomerang. What you put out will come back, so watch your back!

A good way to teach your child this principle is to take your child outdoors to your backyard, throw the boomerang at him and let him see it circle back to the thrower. Now give him a turn. Amazing thing, really. I had a friend who’d go into schools with his “Boomerang Program” to illustrate this very principle; his programs were quite popular.

Doing something for its own sake can be the reward when fostered early in childhood. I remember the story my husband told me about his boyhood family vacation. His father decided to drive cross-country to visit the National Parks of America. Six kids and two adults piled into “Woody,” their station wagon; thrilled to travel for five summer weeks! He described the scene to me: My father would pull into a camp grounds and park the car. Dad never gave orders, he didn’t say a word. My brothers and I appointed ourselves in charge of pitching the tent while my sisters brought out the food, pots and pans and sleeping bags. Everyone seemed clear how they were to contribute to the task at hand and we just did-happily-what had to be done!

Recently I had lunch with a prep school classmate. She described her situation with her son. She and her husband decided to enroll Tyler (not his real name) in private school for fourth grade because he was not being academically challenged in the public school. When they made the switch, Tyler rebelled. One night during the first week of being in his new school, his mother said she heard him sobbing from his bedroom. This distressed her deeply. So she decided to allow him to go back to his old school for a day to visit his buddies and check out for himself what he was missing. To her surprise, Tyler could feel the difference being with his old friends and it wasn’t the same as the year before. He said to his folks, he realized the new school was better for him and more challenging. Basically, Tyler had an inner instinct that helped him figure out for himself that private school was a good place for him. He made the adjustment and thrived there.

Both of these stories illustrate a young person’s intrinsic motivation.

Whatever your religious tradition may be, invoking a spiritual dimension (expressed as “God,” the “divine,” or simply “love” or “caring” or “goodness”) can be a powerful way of helping a child find a deeper appreciation of himself and others. For me, having been raised in the Catholic tradition, this was put in terms of “God” and the divine — but you can adapt this to whatever your own beliefs or traditions are. 

“We all have the extraordinary encoded within us waiting to be released,” says Jean Houston one of the most influential thought leaders of our times.
In some form and in your own way, remind your child that all the energy, all the power, all the wisdom of the Universe is inside you right now, you are made in the likeness of the Creator. Claim your spiritual ID.

I remember being told God is like the ocean, you are a spoonful of that “God-ness” that “goodness.”

The first key to embracing ourselves as divine is through giving. St. Frances said “It is in giving that we receive.” To give: attention, a love note, a smile, a beautiful flower is a gesture of just connecting to the other person to be kind and caring. This is a lesson many kindergarten children learn through the model set by a parent or teacher.

Self-esteem is the awareness of our innate goodness. It is present when a youngster feels good about himself. I foster self-esteem by helping children to see the impact of their kindness or of sharing by bringing their attention to the face of the other child to whom they gave.
I would say, “Johnny, that was very thoughtful of you to give a cookie to Mary. Look at her face, is she smiling? “
Johnny says, Yes!” 
I say, “And how do you think that made her feel? 
Johnny says, “Happy!” 
I say, “And how does it make you feel to know you shared your cookies with her? 
Johnny says, “Good.”
I say, “Yes, you are a caring person.”

SUMMARY OF KEYS TO BUILDING SELF-ESTEEM
1.Catch your child in the act of being caring and sharing and you will get more of that behavior. Slow down the action by deliberately bringing attention of the one who gave, to the expression of joy on the face of the other. This is an emotionally intelligent way of building your child’s self-esteem. Self-concept grows out of the positive and negative experiences in your child’s life; so be on the look out for the positive ones and amplify the influence these experiences have by making sure your child “sees and feels” good about himself in the process.

2 The second key to building self-esteem is found when we model how to take our attention off our own problems and worries and focus, instead, on what we can do for someone else. The simple shift in thinking about “the other” – our brother, our sister, allows the child to lose track of  circumstance and create an act of kindness and caring for its own sake. An act of caring done without any expectation of getting something in return.

3.Prompt your child by having a short conversation about ideas that would help the other member of the family or would offer an expression of joy and love for them. When you take the time to do this, you help your child truly know their own identity and significance.

4.Tell your child about the day or night they were born. Children love to hear about the excitement of their birth. Use storybooks like: “Knots On A Counting Rope” by Bill Martin, Jr. and
“On the Night You Were Born” by Nancy Tillman.

  1. Tell you child how you named him and why. This kind of personal information gives your child awareness of his identity and significance. Read this bedtime story: “The Incredible You” written by Wayne Dyer.