Self-esteem has gotten a bad rap lately. Some people wonder if kids can have too much self-esteem. I think it depends on what people mean by “self-esteem.” If people understand self-esteem to mean that we are all winners all the time and therefore are entitled to praise and adoration no matter what, then YES children can have too much self-esteem. This kind of unrealistic message creates a sense of entitlement in children that they should be given privileges, praise, and awards for just existing. The end result of this will be children who lack self-respect, self-discipline, and motivation.
To me, self-esteem is about self-respect. Included in self-esteem is the belief that one has potential, talents, and basic worth as a human being. When a child believes in his potential and basic worth, he will devote himself to hard work to achieve goals and dreams. He won’t just think he deserves accolades and prizes, but will believe in himself and that he can achieve. You can’t have self-esteem without self-respect.
Our church’s youth minister recently polled the approximately 60 middle and high school kids at our church, asking them what they thought was the greatest challenge for kids right now. The most common response was “self-esteem.” This should be a wake-up call to all of us. Our kids don’t have life figured out (even though they act like it). Fear of failure and lack of self-confidence is pretty common. The solution is encouragement along with unconditional respect. It’s the message “I believe in you. You mean a lot to me. You bring a unique light to the world. You will have failures. Try anyway.”
Virginia Satir, a world-renowned psychotherapist and author, says it best in this essay below. I encourage you to cut this out and give it to your child to read.
MY DECLARATION OF SELF-ESTEEM – Virginia Satir
I am me.
In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. There are persons who have some parts like me, but no one adds up exactly like me. Therefore, everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone choose it.
I own everything about me – my body, including everything it does; my mind, including all my thoughts and ideas; my eyes, including the images of all they behold; my feelings, whatever they might be anger, joy, frustration, love, disappointment, excitement; my mouth, and all the words that come out of it, polite, sweet or rough, correct or incorrect; my voice, loud or soft; and all my actions, whether they be to others or myself.
I own my own fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.
I own all my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.
Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with me in all my parts. I can then make it possible for all of me to work in my best interests.
I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know. But as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for the solutions to the puzzles and for ways to find out more about me.
However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is me.
This is authentic and represents where I am at that moment in time.
When I review later how I looked and sounded, what I said and did, and how I thought and felt, some parts may turn out to be unfitting. I can discard that which is unfitting, and keep that which proved fitting, and invent something new for that which I discarded.
I can see, hear, feel, think, say and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.
I own me, and therefore I can engineer me.
I am me and I am okay.
~Virginia Satir, 1975