Many of us were raised by parents who felt that children should be seen but not heard. They may have believed that if we were encouraged to stand in the spotlight, the attention would go to our heads. Nowadays, parents push their children not just to be their personal best but to outshine everyone else and to rise to the top. This is understandable in light of strong competition in the university system as well as in the workplace.
In other words, if you don’t get the highest marks in your class or if you’re not a leader, you may get left behind. This belief is not unfounded. However, in the process of raising children to be fierce leaders and better than the rest, parents may unintentionally not be teaching other important values such as empathy, consideration for others and working as a team.
The trick to raising self confident and motivated children into adults, is to understand how and where to draw the line between boosting their self esteem and causing them to overestimate their abilities, or to have an over the top need for affirmation or admiration.
Consider the following:
When your child comes home with an A on a test, do you respond with something like “I’m not surprised. You’ve always been more intelligent than your friends. You’re top of the class I’m sure.”
Unfortunately, a response such as this sends a message to your child that he or she is better than everyone else. Children who internalize this may become snobby or aloof towards others whom they deem as less deserving. This belief will ultimately not help them in the real world where it is better to appreciate other’s strengths and weaknesses and to show humility.
Instead, rather focus on his or her accomplishment by saying something like “Wow, your hard work really paid off” or “You must be proud of yourself.”
After watching your child perform on stage or on the field, might you say something like “what would your team do without you? You make them look good!”
This response would unfortunately encourage your child to believe that others cannot function without him or her around. This does not promote team work or humility and gives the child an inflated sense of self. Although you may believe that your child is better than the rest, not everyone will.
Instead of focusing on his or her performance as being better than others, it may be wiser to say something like: “You were all so in sync with one another. It was a pleasure to watch. What great teamwork!”
Also, rather than praising everything your child does or waiting for a positive ending to comment, encourage him or her during the process. So, if you notice that her writing skills, for example, have improved, share what you are seeing along the way as in “I can see how hard you’re working at forming your letters.”
In this way, you are focusing on process rather than end result. If you constantly praise your child’s work, he or she may become a praise junkie and constantly look for affirmation and validation from others. This may set him up for disappointment and frustration in the real world when he doesn’t get showered with all the validation and approval that he has gotten from you.