Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, January 31, 2011

“Self-esteem isn't everything; it's just that there's nothing without it”

Every generation has its buzz words that begin as a favorable focal point for discussion and support and but eventually polarize an opinionated contingent that then brings their favor into question. For the current generation of parents, one such buzz word or phrase is "self esteem". It's unlikely that anyone really thinks believing in yourself is a bad thing yet contemporary parents are often criticized for making the self esteem of their children the core of their parenting.And it's not just parents, is it? Schools and leagues are criticized when medals and trophies are given to every child that participates rather than every child who wins. Are we telling our kids that they're all winners or there are no winners?

I think it's unfortunate that "self esteem" has become a lightening rod. It seems to me that the real fault does not lie with parents, teachers or caregivers who are encouraging children to feel good about themselves but, rather, with people who view the world only in terms of extremes and lose sight of the forest for the trees. It's perfectly fine to declare a winning team in a game or a winner in a competition. We are not doing our children any favors by shielding them from the competitive realities of life. But kids with good self esteem seem so much better equipped to handle those competitive realities! We all accomplish more when we feel better about ourselves and most of us have found feeling good about ourselves to be a challenge at one time or another (or more often than not). If your child knows that you believe in her ability to do something and that helps her believe in herself, then she just might accomplish the goals she's set for herself. What could possibly be the harm in that? We encourage the development of self esteem so that our children can set high expectations for themselves and work to reach them and so that they are armed with strength when they hit bumps and disappointments along the way.

I have always loved the Jamie Lee Curtis/Laura Cornell collaboration, I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self Esteem. What's more, my kids used to love it too. We all enjoyed the rhymes and had a blast with the illustrations.The message was clear but delivered with humor and color and quirk!

One of the newer books that found its way to my office recently is Stand Straight Ella Kate by the sister team of Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise. Before I realized that this book is a biographical account of the life of Ella Kate Ewing, who, born in 1872, suffered from gigantism and joined the circus, I thought it was a book written for tall kids; a reminder of the importance of good posture. I avoided it for the longest time. I was 5"7 by 5th grade and didn't need to read about someone else's struggles with being tall. One of our daughters is now strikingly tall (I emphasize "striking" because she also happens to be spectacularly beautiful) and I imagine she'd have rejected the book for the same reasons I did. I don't know what drew me to this book in the end but I'm grateful nonetheless. Ella Kate Ewing grew to 8"4. Despite comments, snickers and outright laughs, Ella Kate stood straight and proud, dreamed big and made the most amazing and remarkable life for herself. She traveled the world and became financially independent at a time when people didn't travel much and women were not yet considered full citizens. She believed in herself and made her own dreams come true. I think the key to developing self esteem is that you can only achieve and accomplish great things if you dream them up and believe in yourself and your ability to see them through. Self esteem is a an important ingredient in living the life you can and should live. Doesn't every child deserve to have good self esteem in their mix?

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