Phony self-esteem and the real deal

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When my son was in kindergarten at the local public school, twenty years ago, developing self-esteem was one of the main goals. Teachers used numerous ways to work this concept into the curriculum and daily schedules, but the one I remember the most were the “books” the five-year-olds wrote, even before the majority knew how to read. The students were told to come up with a story and then “write” and illustrate it. They were then praised for their work. What is wrong with this? Plenty. It is wrong to instruct a student to do work that they are incapable of doing and then congratulate them for a job well done. This makes no sense whatsoever and it in no way helps a child develop a healthy self-esteem. In fact, I would argue that self-esteem could be damaged when the child, especially an intelligent, inquisitive one, figures out that he or she didn’t do such a great job after all. Real self-esteem is developed instead when one has a proper view of oneself in relation to others, the world, and God; when one has the kind of security that comes from having a stable home life, and feels loved, valued, and needed; and when one has a true sense of accomplishment that can only come when various skills have been mastered.

In order for children to relate well to others and the world around them, they must first have a proper perspective of themselves and their place in this world. Babies are naturally self-centered, but it is the parents’ job to teach them that the world does not, in fact, revolve around them. They are a small, but important, part. In this mixed up world we live in, it seems as though children are either idolized or abhorred. Both views are incorrect and, although I cannot speak for other religions, in Christianity, humans are a special creation, made in God’s image. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) That being said, Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments when He taught, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Thus, according to the Bible, the two most important principles for life are to love God and love others. Children should be taught that they are treasures, made in God’s image, but they must be taught to put God and others first.

A stable environment with a certain degree of structure is another key component in developing a child’s self-esteem. When young people, who are already using so much mental energy to figure out this world and learn what they must in order to survive and thrive, do not have to waste energy fretting about a topsy-turvy home life, bullying at school, or any number of other problems, they have an advantage. As unfortunate and devastating as divorce can be, children from broken homes can still have a sense of security if both parents agree that they will always strive to act in their children’s best interest, and not their own. If at all possible, parents should stay together because a home where mom and dad honor their marriage vows and work through difficulties is the best environment for any child. What else can be done to ensure that children grow up feeling secure? Having a daily routine can help. It is not necessary to be rigid about this, but it’s been proven time and again that children thrive in a structured environment. This means that the child can, without thinking, expect certain things to happen on a regular basis: meals and lights out at set times, for instance; weekly chores on Saturday; church on Sunday; and so on. It should be noted that children who are expected to help around the house feel needed, like they are an important, contributing member of the family. Feeling needed, in turn, contributes to one’s sense of worth. Furthermore, if you are a student of history, you know that the greatest of mankind’s discoveries and developments occurred during times of peace when people didn’t have to worry constantly about survival. It is the same with children: Make a clear, uncluttered path for them with the suggestions above and watch them thrive and blossom.

Finally, a true and proper self-esteem can only be achieved when one has a confidence that comes from a real sense of accomplishment. As in my first example about the “books” the kindergartners were “writing,” this wasn’t a true sense of accomplishment. If one of these kids really had been able to write a book that made sense and wasn’t riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, then that would have been an accomplishment. As it was, however, it would have been better to work on phonics with the goal of producing a book after a certain skill level had been attained. Thus, as parents, we need to make sure that our children are truly learning and gaining the skills they will need. Even if you don’t homeschool, raising your children is still your responsibility – not the school’s. Know what they are being taught and whether or not they are succeeding. Get additional help from the teacher or a tutor if necessary.

This country would be in much better shape if we would focus not so much on how we all “feel” about everything, but instead focus on what we know and what we can do. Instead of raising up a generation (or two or three) of unskilled narcissists, we would have the kind of hard-working, decent citizens who made this country great. Can we turn it around? I don’t know. All we can do is try. Don’t get discouraged, though, because as we’ve seen in history time and again, great change can start with just one person.