It might surprise you coming from a mental health professional, but I’m not a big fan of “self-esteem.” Not that I want anyone to feel badly about themselves. It’s just that what most people think of as “self-esteem” (i.e., telling a child that he is awesome just because he managed to draw breath without tripping over his tongue) isn’t terrifically effective and doesn’t bear terrifically good fruit.
But as much as you hear about self-esteem on children’s television and daytime talk shows, psychologists prefer to talk about “self-efficacy.” Self-efficacy is defined as the good feelings one gets from knowing that one has ability to set and meet personal, emotional, or temporal goals. Knowing I have the power to effect change, to achieve, to identify how to move from how I do feel to how I would like to feel, is an important component of a healthier and more authentic sense of self-esteem.
And if you’d like to learn more about raising kids to have a healthy sense of self-esteem (instead of the narcissistic, insidious kind) check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.