This chapter explains the difference (and importance) between self-esteem and self-worth. And it explains the difference (and importance) between praise and encouragement.
According to Dr. Leman, self-esteem is “feeling good about myself (page 69.)” And praise “links a child’s worth to what he does.”
“It is easy to make a child feel good – give him everything he wants when he wants it. You’ll create the kind of child who feels good about himself because his parents always took care of everything for him – there were no bumps in the road. Be forewarned, Mom and Dad, you will be stuck in that role when the child is an adult and unable to step up to the plate.”
Double that with a parent who continually praises their child’s good acts, and you’ve got one big fat mess.
Most of the time, praise is false or at least exaggerated to make them feel good. “It’s never a good idea to associate ‘goodness’ or ‘cuteness’ with how a child does a certain task. If the child did that task badly, would that make him bad or ugly?”
To a child, linking his worth to what he does translates as, “If I don’t do something ‘good’ all the time, then I’m not worth anything.”
“Feeling good is a temporary thing. It is based on feelings that change from moment to moment. (Page 71.)”
And truthfully, I am mildly concerned that I may be doing this to my most amazingly awesome sweet smart stellar boy. Not that my praise is false, but that I’ve associated good works with worth…
So what should I be doing?
True self-worth, according to Dr. Leman, is developed thru experiences that teach responsibility and accountability. It is based on acceptance, belonging and competence.
Encouragement (rather than praise) emphasizes the act, not the person, thus encouraging the person to continue make good choices.
For example, instead of saying, “You’re such a good boy! You got an ‘A’ in math; that is just wonderful!”
Try: “You earned an ‘A’ in Math! I know you have been working really hard in that area and it has definitely paid off!”
The difference is so subtle. But if the first leads my son to think he is only worth something when he feels good or when he does good, I definitely want to learn to encourage rather than praise. I definitely want to develop his self-worth rather than his self-esteem.
Children want to be accepted by their parents.
Children want to belong to a family.
Children want to have competence.
How can I help my son accomplish these things?
1. Make my expectations clear.
2. Expect the best.
3. Never do for him what he can and should do for himself.
4. Do not repeat my instructions (because it implies I think he is stupid).
5. Do not praise, encourage him.