Forget Self-Esteem: Here's What Your Kids Really Need to Succeed

You want your kid to have good self-esteem, right? Any parenting manual will tell you it’s important. Right up there with food and sunlight on the list of what kids need to be happy, healthy & successful. Right?

Not so much, an emerging body of research suggests. People with high self-esteem aren’t really more successful than others, though they think they are.

What really counts is your capacity for self-compassion. You don’t have to think you’re awesome all the time; you just need to be gentle towards your flaws. Lifehacker breaks down the recent research.

Before today, I wasn’t familiar with the term “self-compassion.” Here’s how Lifehacker defines it:

Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding—it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego.

OK. That sounds pretty swell. I see the argument about how this differs from self-esteem, too. Allowing yourself to mess up once awhile opens up the possibility of growing and changing. Good stuff.

So how do I teach this to my kids?

Lifehacker doesn’t offer any insight into that one, but I have some ideas of my own.

  1. Listen: Kids are often pretty clear on what they’re doing well and what they need to work on. Letting a kid talk through her own feelings about her performance at something can give you insight on how to help her be compassionate with herself while striving to grow and learn.
  2. Praise Wisely: Praise the actions, not the child. Instead of telling a kid she’s smart, admire the work she’s done on a paper. This helps bolster the effort she’s making without creating an identity as a “smart kid” that she needs to protect by not taking intellectual risks.
  3. Practice Compassion: Your own capacity for compassion is a great teacher. Be gentle with yourself and with your kids. If your kids experience compassion from you, that’s what they’ll internalize for themselves. If they see you being compassionate towards yourself, they’ll grow to believe that’s how people should treat themselves.

These are some rough, not-at-all-expert ideas to get started with. I’m personally going to make an effort to be more compassionate with myself and my kids, especially when it comes to performance at school and work. I know I can be kind of a hard case about getting homework done correctly and on time, and I’m going to take a deep breath and try to be gentler with the kids while holding onto my high bar about getting their work done.

How will you teach your kids to be compassionate towards themselves?


Article Posted 4 years Ago

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