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When I began raising my daughters I was a proponent for the support of self-esteem development to the point of keeping them from situations that could be disappointing. They received gold stars for making the bed, brushing their hair, being nice to each other. Bad idea. I am still a believer that self-esteem matters, but my view has changed on how to be supportive, especially now that we are living in a world where everyone, even even your child, is plugged in.
Technology and the internet are great tools that help us get a lot of our needs instantly met. Kids, too, are able to satisfy most of their needs and desires through use these outside sources--resources found via the computer. And I am sure you’ve experienced what occurs when the computer runs slow, or heaven forbid, Facebook is down—grunting, yelling at the screen, and the laptop snapping shut. Is this how we want our kids to handle the failure of getting their needs met?
There are times when my daughter’s needs cannot be immediately met—Sally won’t be available to chat or her softball team loses the tournament. She won’t always make the Honor Roll and I won’t always be home to fix the home network. It is impossible to protect her from "losing" or "failing". It's too exhausting and unrealistic. And it causes the development of an emotional handic ap, similar to not being able to handle the disappointment of hearing the word, "no".
In losing and failing, kids learn to deal with uncomfortable emotions. When parents are there to be supportive when their child is experiencing uncomfortable emotions, the situation can prove to be an experience that increases self-esteem. It teaches him that he is loveable no matter if he wins or loses and perpetuates his willingness to take healthy risks in the future. More importantly, it prepares him to be ok with feelings that aren’t pleasant. This is important because we do not want our kids to run from unpleasant feelings to drugs, alcohol, sex, the internet, food, and the like.
Losing is also an opportunity for children to explore their talents. By all means, let your child try as many activities as she wants, but then use the not so successful experience to help her discern, "Is this my kind of thing, or do my talents lie elsewhere?" If she always wins, how will she know what she does well?
And, no, we do not have to print out an award every time our kids complete a task. Yes, when engaging in activities such as sports or theater, preparation and participation should be acknowledged as accomplishments because every activity requires self-discipline, commitment, and courage. However, it is unrealistic to be extrinsically rewarded for every attempt our child makes (like getting a trophy for trying). We must teach our children to honor themselves from a place within which supports the development of intrinsic motivation. Otherwise, kids will only choose to participate if they are guaranteed a gold star.
Kimberly at Sperk*