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A Little Pride Doesn’t Hurt: Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Encouraging Healthy Self-EsteemPride comes before a fall, the saying goes, and we have countless stories, from Star Wars to Citizen Kane, that prove it. The p-word has become so derided these days that its antonym has come to replace it — “This is humbling” or “I’m humbled” people (especially politicians) sometimes say, when they mean just the opposite; they’re proud of themselves. And we now have the neologism “Humble Brag,” an oxymoron that means to brag about yourself without seeming to brag about yourself, to use a screen of phony humility to distract from your boast.

In an extreme, pride turns to hubris, arrogance, and narcissism. It blinds a person to pitfalls, and deafens them to opposing views. It makes one insufferable to be around. And yet a certain amount of pride in one’s accomplishments and achievements is healthy. Otherwise you don’t allow yourself to shine, you don’t bring all of your gifts forward to share with others, and you don’t stand up for yourself in a conflict or when being trampled upon. Outside of the social realm, it’s nice to take a moment and feel good about yourself, to have some esteem in one’s self. Liking yourself is a positive thing, I think we can all agree.

This can be hard for me. Just the other day I was talking with my wife about some good career news, and, during a pause in the conversation, I thought “I’m really proud of myself.” Instead of saying this, I began drumming along to the beat of the music.

And then she said it. “I’m proud of you!”

“I was just thinking that!” I said.

“Well, you don’t usually drum,” she said. This is true. I have horrible rhythm. During clap-a-longs, I’m the guy clapping in the silences between everyone else’s claps. “So I figured you were feeling pretty good,” she continued.

At what point do we start to monitor our feelings of self-worth? And why do we do it? This week I saw some beautiful, very honest expressions of pride in my son. Felix is leaving toddlerhood behind for little boy-dom, a metamorphosis rife with growing pains, and some moments of revelation too.

I’ve written before about his love of his tricycle, and with his forth birthday on the horizon, we’ve been talking about getting him “a big boy bike” with training-wheels. The other day I took him to investigate the selection of kid bicycles at the bike store, thinking to whet his appetite. They only had one bike available, though, and it was the perfect size for him. When he saw it, Felix’s eyes became donuts, and his face beamed. The owner of the store was obviously touched by his excitement, and smelled an opportunity. He offered me a great price for the bike and so we took it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that smile on Felix’s face when he rode up to our stoop with his helmet on. He was so proud of himself.

Just as he was when he helped me shop for groceries, fetching all the goods within his reach, and digging around in the freezer to find the perfect bag of frozen raspberries. “Can I sit in the cart and have a snack now?” he asked after a while.

“Sure thing, kid. You deserve it.”

His face made clear that he agreed.

That smile returned later when, while listening to “C is for Cookie,” he found the C from among the magnet letters. “Can you help me spell cookie?” he asked my wife. Aside from the K, he found every letter himself, and he strutted upstairs to fetch me. “I spelled it on my own! Mostly,” he told me.

Obviously, as a parent, you don’t want to feed this sense of pride disproportionately. No one likes a kid with a big head, or a kid who thinks that the world needs to stop and take notice of his or her accomplishments. Sadly, the world doesn’t, and the world won’t. There are always haters out there. So part of our job is to manage those moments of hubris when we see them, and not build false expectations or feelings of self-worth in our kids.

What we do want is to nurture a healthy self-esteem. Stopping to notice those moments of accomplishment and achievement and showering a little love and attention on your child is a part of this.

A few times this week I crouched down to Felix’s level to say, “I’m proud of you, kid. You’re growing into a big boy, and I love you.”

“Thanks, Dad,” he replied. And we shared a man-hug, a warm hand draped over one another’s shoulders.

I felt good about myself in those moments too. Proud not only of the kid my son was becoming, but of the father I had grown to be in his presence.

 

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