Building Self-Esteem (Part 2)

Last week we spoke about the challenge of improving self-esteem in the child we consider particularly difficult. Behaviors and pitfalls that a frustrated parent needs to avoid were also discussed. This week’s column will focus more on what positive, pro-active measures we can take to help our child.

How do we show our children that they are unique and special individuals? One way is to establish a time when one or both parents can spend time alone with him or her. This time together ought to be non-pressured and fun in nature and should convey to the child that he is charming, lovable and fun to be with — which will lead him to develop a higher opinion of himself.

A child’s self-respect will grow further if parents encourage the development of a talent in which the child can feel pride. This special ability may be in sports, music or any skill imaginable. If parents find it difficult to find such an area, they can help the child to create one. For example, a child can be encouraged to excel in kindness — the gift of giving. Parents can show enthusiasm when a child helps a neighbor by tutoring, or assists a person who is ailing. (Such activity would be done for little or no charge.)

Another essential goal for a parent is to increase the giving of verbal praise. According to Chabad Chassidus, one needs to continually use words of praise when interacting with fellow Jews so as to awaken the actual good within them. This idea can be understood when we look at& Parashas Emor. Emor means “to say” — grammatically, it is both in the present tense and the command tense, as if to say, whatever it is that Emor is teaching us (the word Torah is related to teach), the utterance is a constant one and one that should be heeded.

We learn from this that by saying positive, uplifting words, the words themselves carry the power to bring out the positive aspects of the other person and help him overcome any negative traits he may possess. Then, by constantly uttering the positive, the negative will continue to lessen until it disappears. By stressing the good, the negative elements eventually dissipate, as one’s identity becomes a positive and constructive one. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zy”a, expresses this in Likutei Maharan, where he speaks of the idea of “V’hisbonanta al m’komo& v’eineinu — If one meditates on the place (of the evil person), he will no longer exist.” (Tehillim 37). Thus, we see that verbal praise actually assists our children to improve, as our positive vision of them will elevate their potential.&

Some parents may find it difficult to continually praise their children, as they themselves may have received a more old-fashioned upbringing where what is lacking in each child was stressed. “Where are the two points on this test to make it 100 percent?” is a question that many of us were accustomed to hearing. Yet the current generation generally finds such messages unhelpful; they make the child feel that he is “never good enough.”

We need to realize that our children could easily receive praise and encouragement from the secular society around them, which continually stresses “positive vibes and feeling good.” Our children need to find this sense of “feeling good” in our own homes and schools, and have no need to look elsewhere for it. Due to the intense competition in our society — whether with regard to shidduchim or acceptance into certain yeshivos or schools — a person might easily come to feel dejected and second-class. Thus, it is all the more important for us to express our praise to our children so that they will view themselves in a positive light and envision a hopeful future.

If these steps do not produce substantial improvement and a child’s problem seems more complex, professional help should be sought. Other issues may be involved, making it difficult for children to increase their self-confidence.

After surveying different methods to help a child acquire a sense of self-worth, we see that a great deal depends on the parents’ active involvement. One cannot expect positive change unless new modes of behavior and attitudes are implemented, all truly worthwhile if the outcome is a more self-confident, happier child.