Parents and teachers are told to build self-esteem in children. But many parents survive to the teenage years and then find themselves saying…but we did so much for you: why are you in the wrong crowd; doing the wrong thing; dropping out. Teachers find increased behaviour issues…less self-motivation, less perseverance, less maturity. And other people have noticed: focussing on self-esteem has created a narcissistic world: people abound who are disconnected and lacking empathy; and wouldn’t understand the concept of delayed gratification if it bit them…
When our Hare was three he had awesome self-esteem. He would approach anyone, he would converse well and appropriately, he appeared to be a truly confident little boy. He wasn’t. It was all bravado. It was all a social-shell around someone who was fundamentally lost, unhappy and lacking self-assurance. He had regular nightmares and night terrors, he was scared of the dark, he was scared of heights, he was unaffectionate, he was nutty as a fruit cake when he was overwhelmed and, at times, he was down right mean and nasty.
So we completely re-parented him. A process which took five years or so. It wasn’t pretty. We were learning on the job. It was like peeling an onion…we’d sort one thing out and another issue would arise. But here’s two things of the myriad of things which helped: we dramatically increased the hours he got to play each day – less time in the car; just swimming as an activity; no electronic toys or screen-time. And we used eye-contact as part of the process of emotionally reconnecting. Each time I greeted him, I made my eyes soft, sparkly and wider – body language which showed I was warmly excited to see him. We let him break eye-contact when he was ready. And when he spoke I stopped what I was doing, and focussed my eyes and body completely on him. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster but he’s now doing well, and while still a bit nervous with the dark and heights, he displays few if any of his previous anxious traits.
Self-Assurance is the polar opposite of what many of us think of as self-esteem. It’s quiet and unobtrusive. It’s graceful. It’s peaceful. It’s internally knowing you can manage most things. And most of all…it’s calm.
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