Dear Dr. Yael,
I listened to your lecture on Kol Halashon about building self-esteem in children. When you told the story of Zero Mostel – whose father would refer to him as a “gornish” (a nothing), which is why he renamed himself Zero – it resonated with me. My parents were always telling me that I would amount to nothing.
Today, I have a beautiful family, including grandchildren and even a great-grandchild. My wife and I run a successful business and make a wonderful parnassah. I am a loving husband, and yet, my parents’ words from my youth still haunt me.
I wish you would repeat some of what you said in your lecture so that I can clip it out and share with my children.
I begin with a mashal: A man is constantly chasing his cows. A friend asks why he doesn’t just build a fence around them. The man responds, “Who has time to build a fence? I’m too busy chasing the cows.”
The investment we make when our children are young, by spending time with them, understanding their feelings and building a relationship with them is of monumental importance. Rav Yissachar Frand reminds us to spend time with our children when they are young, so we do not spend time with them in the principal’s office, in prison, in the mental hospital, or in the drug rehab unit.
Learning how to validate your child’s feelings is probably the most important aspect of your relationship with your child. This validation will help ensure that your child will be able to make decisions and become a confident adult. When a parent disregards their child’s feeling and/or opinions or is always talking or texting on the phone when the child is present, it makes the child feel unimportant which leads to tremendous self-esteem issues. When a child’s opinion is noticed and mentioned, it helps him or her develop an identity that enables decisive decision-making in adulthood.
Of all the gifts we give our children self-esteem is the most important. When you doubt your own self-worth, you will have problems with friends, dating, and marriage.
How do we build self-esteem? Creating a child is like baking a cake. Why do some cakes come out so delicious and others just flop? Sometimes you see “simple mediocre families” with amazing children, while other so called “amazing families” face many issues.
A great rav once spoke publicly about his own children who were not as frum as he would have liked them to be and who were not talmidei chachomim. He noted that the cook in his yeshiva had amazing children who were great talmidei chachomim. He realized that while he was learning Torah at the Shabbos table the cook in the yeshiva was singing zemiros and creating a loving atmosphere, one which encouraged his children to love Yiddishkeit and to become talmidei chachomim. He begged everyone to learn from his mistakes and create the proper atmosphere in their homes.
How do we help them develop self-esteem?
- Give your children a reasonable amount of options for their age and make them feel empowered and competent. Learning to make choices when we are young helps us cope with challenging situations as we get older. Use simple choices like what they want for dinner or breakfast (two options is a good amount) or letting them choose in the store from 3 outfits you have pre-picked. Let them choose their pajamas – just make sure they are weather appropriate.
- Let your children do things for themselves. Teaching independence is crucial for children and allowing them to figure things out on their own can be priceless. It may be faster to do things for them, yet allowing them to do things on their own will give them a feeling of confidence and competency! Give little kids jobs they can accomplish and praise them lavishly for doing so! Also, the independence you’re teaching them will give you more time as well.
- Allow your children to make mistakes and try not to overreact when they do so – letting them know that no one is perfect is very important.
That being said, do not give them insincere or false praise. Children can smell insincerity and this makes them feel small. Instead of telling your daughter that you think she is the best author ever, tell her that you really enjoyed a detail she included in her essay, a detail that highlighted her writing ability. For a young child say something like, “I love the way your picture came out. You picked such beautiful colors and drew so well for your age.”
- Give your children age appropriate jobs to do. Children like to feel accomplished and helpful and age appropriate jobs will help increase their competency and problem solving skills.
- Never compare your children to others. Try to focus simply on their individual strengths.
- Do not ever call your children names or belittle their feelings. If you’re feeling angry, overwhelmed, or out of sorts, take a time out for yourself so you do not say something you will regret. While you can tell a child you do not like what he or she did, we should not say we don’t like him or her.
- Make a point of spending one-on-one time with your children; it will make them feel special. It doesn’t have to be a large chunk of time, but making small “dates” with your kids can be an invaluable time to hear about what is going on with them and in their lives.
Dear reader, if you feel that your parents’ voices are taking up too much space in your brain, please seek professional help. Hatzlocha with your grandchildren and kudos to you for recognizing an issue and trying to raise the next generation differently!
Dr. Respler’s lectures can be found on Kol Halashon. Call 718-906-6400. Press #1, and then the prompts are 5-14.