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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Raising Excellent Kids in an Insane World: Part 1 Self-Esteem

"Healthy self-esteem is a child's armor against the challenges of the world."

"Not enough self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive situations and relationships."
"Self-esteem is the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and of being worthy of happiness."
So go the self-esteem mongers, who for the past 50 years have managed to sell an idea to us that may not carry the weight they gave it. The way we seem to have translated this idea is that: a) we have to constantly praise our children; b) happiness is the most important thing in our lives; and c) as Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman put it, "... one of the self-esteem movement's key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together."
When my daughter was younger - about 16 months - I had praised her for an activity she had accomplished. At that time, I started to think about how we use praise and what some of its purposes might be. Remember, we're told by experts to use praise as a way of encouraging our children's interest and/or as a device to build self esteem.
Between 1970 and 2000, apparently, more then 15,000 scholarly pieces were written regarding the connection of self-esteem to just about all things in our lives. Then, the Association for Psychological Science had Dr. Roy Baumeister (a leading champion of the idea of self-esteem) do a serious review of all these self-esteem writings.
Well, what the heck did Dr. Baumeister find? It seems it came down to only 200 studies that actually used scientifically-sound measurements. After a review of those, he came to the conclusion that having high self-esteem won't enhance grades, help you do better in your career, or lower violence. Believe it or not, it seems that very hostile, aggressive people have a high sense of themselves! So much for the notion of, "they're compensating for low self-esteem." Using praise incorrectly and at inappropriate times can actually be unproductive.
Dr. Baumeister now seems to think that the continued attractiveness of self-esteem is connected to parents' feelings about their children's accomplishments: "when they praise their kids, it's not that far from praising themselves." Also, from my point of view, it's easy. Easy to throw out "positive" words and not worry about doing the actual work of helping "produce" an excellent child.
What I have observed (and what researchers have found) is that not all praise is equal - and it should be targeted in use. For a nice overview on this topic, read Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's NurtureShock (the chapter called "The Inverse Power of Praise").
So, what is praise? How might we use it more effectively?
Check back in two weeks for a continuation on this topic.
Let me know your thoughts on this topic by leaving a comment here.
Montclair resident, Frank Diaz can be reached at raisingexcellentkids@gmail.com.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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