The self-esteem movement began in the 1970s influencing generations of parents to make sure their kids felt good about themselves. Unfortunately, telling Junior he did an amazing job didn’t work. Today, there are more depressed children under 18 than back in the 1960s. Rates of depression in California children have increased in every age group.
Telling your son he did a good job for a mediocre task does not make him feel good about himself. Clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Miller, Director of the Boy’s Institute for Growth, says, “Praise has lost its punch, so children don’t see their parents’ praise as genuine. When everyone and everything is ‘amazing’, nothing really is.”
Here’s what parents need to do. First, find your child’s passion. Whether he enjoys baseball, playing a musical instrument, or performing magic acts, encourage his current craze. Teach your son how to stick with difficult tasks so he can achieve mastery. With mastery comes a boost in self-esteem.
It is your job to make sure your child stays focused on her efforts, not the outcome. When she starts a project, encourage her to see it through. You want to send the message that in life, to feel success one needs to struggle, fail, then pick oneself up and do it again. It takes time to master a skill, but once accomplished the feelings of success is reward enough. Children feel great about themselves when they know they performed well on a task. That child has earned his self-esteem, and it will stick.
As a reward for success you may want to show your child professionals who share his love. So if he has been trying to perform a magic act, take him to the Magic Castle in Hollywood. If he has been studying violin and mastered the violin concerto treat him to a night of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Michael Thal is the author of Goodbye Tchaikovsky, the story of a deaf violinist.