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.
It is this second type of self-esteem, rooted in self-efficacy, that Dr. Justin Coulson, discusses in this article at the Family Studies Blog (of the Institute for Family Studies). Dr. Coulson is an Australian parenting expert and psychologist (as well as a father of six kids). He notes that the type of self-esteem that you usually think about and that studies usually measure is actually related to risky, violent, and aggressive behavior as well as other problems. As an alternative, Dr. Coulson suggests instilling in kids a healthier form of self-esteem built on doing good things, using their talents, and having a solid relationship with their parents. Its some good stuff. Check it out!
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.