Can Your Child Have Too Much Self Esteem?

Health & Wellness on 03.29.12
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We know that positive reenforcement can help kids' brains grow bigger, but there's a flip side to building up self esteem. Julie has already explored how praising your kids as smart can backfire, creating a sense of complacency that leads to a lack of effort. (Praising them for their efforts, on the other hand, encourages hard work.)

Family psychologist John Rosemond explores this very topic over at The Star Press, suggesting that self esteem is seriously overrated, and that we should learn to value humility once more:

Researchers have discovered that people with high self-esteem tend to overestimate their abilities. If anything, they are over-confident. As a result, they don't cope well when life deals them a bad hand or their performance doesn't live up to their self-expectations. For those reasons, they are highly prone to depression. Because they believe anything they do is deserving of reward, they also tend to underperform. Ironic, since high self-esteem was promoted as the key to happiness and academic success.

If we focus on values and hard work, says Rosemond, we create learners who work well with others; who think beyond their own narrow self interest; and who do not expect instant gratification for every thing they do. In an economy that increasingly thrives on collaboration and creative thinking, this is likely to be key to success in the future.

Does this mean we should stop praising our kids? Heck no. But just as constantly telling our daughters they are pretty can send them some fairly unhelpful messages, so too praising kids as smart can lead to unintended consequences. Let's remember that hard work, inventiveness, creativity and care for others should be praised at least as much as a child's inherent mental ability - a factor which neither they nor we have very much control over anyway. And let's remind them that it's not "being better" than others that counts most - it's doing your best and contributing to the efforts and well-being of those around you.

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