There’s a fine line between a child with good self-esteem and a child who is a spoiled, arrogant brat. Although I’m certainly not a perfect parent, I feel that I have helped to strike a balance enabling my child to feel good about herself without feeling a misplaced or excessive sense of pride. Here are a few tips for parents who want to facilitate good self-esteem without arrogance.
1. Skip the praise. I don’t believe in praising children too liberally. In fact, some parenting experts like Alfie Kohn and Barbara Coloroso believe that praise itself is actually detrimental. If you chirp “good job” every time your child eats a meal, picks up a toy or picks out an outfit, you degrade your child’s self-esteem rather than improving it. Constant praise sets your child up to be overly dependent on other people’s approval. A good alternative– encourage your child to feel internal pride by simply observing, “Wow! You cleaned your room all by yourself!” Your child will produce his own sense of satisfaction rather than depending on your (or anyone else’s) constant approval.
2. Let your child know he has flaws. It’s important to tell your child that she is imperfect and will always be imperfect. I want my daughter to know that I think she is the most beautiful, intelligent, loving, creative child in the world. I also want her to know that I’m the only one who thinks that. You can reassure your child of your unconditional love while also letting him know that he will not always out-shine his peers. There will be times that he comes in second, third or even last place. There will be times that he struggles in school and times that he’ll meet someone who doesn’t find him remarkable. Let him know that your love is unconditional, but that he is an imperfect person. This realization encourages self-esteem while also combating arrogance.
3. Love your child unconditionally. You are your child’s first guidepost for a positive self-image. If you– the person who knows your child best– do not love your child unconditionally, she will never have good self-esteem. Tell your child you love her, even when you’re angry. Have fun with parenting. Read books. Cuddle. Give plenty of hugs. Do a wacky art project. Dress in ’90s clothes and do the Macarena in your kitchen. If you enjoy parenting your child, he will translate this into positive self-esteem.
4. Praise the right things. If and when you do praise your child, focus on the feats that require effort and moral character, not the things your child can not control. Your child didn’t choose to be smart, beautiful or physically agile– but she did choose to apply herself in school, eat healthy foods, or practice regularly for a sport. By praising accomplishments that require effort, you set your child up to value herself for who she is, not how she was born. As a result, she will have a positive self-image without a misplaced sense of arrogance.
5. Set an example. Here is where I– and many other mothers– fail. If your child sees you constantly degrading yourself, he will mimic this behavior. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve said something negative about myself, then seen my own daughter insult herself within minutes. My personal goal is to stop saying that I’m ugly, forgetful, lazy or scatter-brained in front of my child. Whether I like it or not, she will internalize these self-insults and adopt the same self-critical habits if I do not change them. As with all other challenges in parenting, it’s the internal steps that are the hardest and most important.