For many years people generally agreed that building up self-esteem in kids was a worthwhile pursuit that lead to positive child development. In fact, I don’t ever remember a time during my graduate training where positive reinforcement, verbal praise, and general encouragement were seen as potentially dangerous on any level. Today, however, some critics argue that artificially boosting self-esteem is a bad thing, and reinforcing young athletes with participation ribbons can lead to future lethargy when these kids one day become adults.
Personally, I feel strongly both as a clinician and parent that building self-esteem in kids is one of the biggest and most important jobs we have as adults. This does not mean kids should receive smiles and high-fives all day long for simply existing, but it does suggest that genuinely building up self-esteem in kids by “catching” them giving their best effort is a worthwhile pursuit for every parent and coach.
Feel good, do good
Studies show that when we feel good about ourselves, we upwardly adjust our behaviors accordingly. For example, if you feel good about your appearance, you are far more likely to keep up with your hygiene, dress nicely, and carry yourself with an heir of dignity and respect. Conversely, people who don’t have much self-esteem tend to do the opposite — they don’t spend much time taking care of themselves, and their efforts are generally poor, too.
With kids, it is even more important to find ways to keep their spirits high as the habits they develop at an early age may very likely stay with them for the rest of their lives. And trust me, regularly telling a kid “great job!” will not jeopardize his future and put him more at-risk for being a lazy slug as an adult.
Sports provides countless opportunities for self-esteem development
There are endless ways to help a kid boost his or her self-esteem in sports, including praising effort, sportsmanship, and of course, their accomplishments on the field. Your smile, energy, and body language are important ways to positively infect a kid with confidence and improved self-esteem. The best part about this? There’s no ‘wrong’ way to tell a kid “great job!”
Schools can boost self-esteem, too
No, schools today haven’t missed the mark by having a greater emphasis on building kids up by making concerted efforts to improve self-esteem. Kids who feel better about themselves are less likely to bully, use drugs and alcohol, and drop out of school. If you happen to live in an area where the school and sports leagues both emphasize building self-esteem, you are providing your kids the best opportunities to maximize their personal happiness, health, and productivity.
While it is true that adults can sometimes go overboard by offering kids so much praise and attention that it becomes artificial, that is the exception, not the rule. In the vast majority of cases the efforts we make to help build self-esteem in kids will only yield good, positive, healthy results, making our efforts even that much more worthwhile.
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