March 8, 2010

The Importance Of Self Esteem - 1

No doubt many will read the title of this post and say "well yeah" and that's great!  But what does it really mean?  We can all understand how empowering it is to have good self esteem and how that then flows on to how we treat others and the planet in general.  However, I never understood it so fully as I do now, until I was blessed with children and had the opportunity to watch, 3 very different individuals, growing within the same environment, and to make some really important connections or BFO's (blinding flashes of the obvious).

We are often led to believe that children come into this world a blank slate, ready to be written upon so to speak. But those of you who have had children and really watched those babes, know that's a long way from the truth!  They are their own little people from the very beginning - sure it may be a very basic foundation of who they are that they come into this world with, but it is there nevertheless, and to truly help them evolve into the amazing individuals they came here to be, it is our job as parents to help them navigate their way through this world, with their own authenticity, originality, integrity and importantly their self esteem in tact.
We do our best as parents but as a "learn as you go" profession, we do make mistakes.  And I have noticed when I make those mistakes just what the effect is on my children's self esteem.  (The good news is, if you notice you can fix it!  Kids don't hold grudges naturally, this is something they learn, so if you can fess up and change your mistake, they'll move on quickly without any lasting harm to their self esteem.)

Have you ever noticed with your kids (those who have them), that if you pick them up on "inappropriate" behaviour in a negative way, how that often leads to even more "inappropriate" behaviour, but if you guide them gently and supportively in their behaviour, it's a total non-issue, and they can even thrive on it?
By way of example, I look after a friend's child in the afternoon once a week, and when we do this my 5 year old gets very excited!  He becomes the "big kid" amongst the 4 children I have at that time having just started kinder, and well to put it bluntly, in his excitement and exhuberance he can get kind of cocky and bossy, telling the other kids what to play and how to play it.  The first week this happened I was shocked and not overly impressed and found myself telling him off and expressing what he should do instead with his friends (in hindsight, getting cocky and bossy myself, about him).  Well that was a disaster!  He got worse and started acting out in other ways as well.  You see I had embarrassed him in front of the others, and shaken his confidence in his ability to navigate his own friendships and by making him feel bad about himself (damaging his self esteem, and dampening his natural enthusiasm and exhuberance) I'd made him feel WRONG as a person and his behaviour actually got worse.

The second week this arrangement took place, I'd had a whole week to think about how to handle the situation should it occur again because I certainly don't want what I do with my kids to lead to "worse" behaviour, poor self-esteem, dampened enthusiasm for life and teaching them how NOT to function best in this world.  Naturally enough the same situation arose with him laying down the playing rules for all, and the other kids feeling very over it to say the least.  This time, I gently pulled him aside, reminded him of what a great friend he is, but suggested he just noticed how the other kids were finding him, behaving towards him and what they were saying and asked him to reflect on how he likes to be treated.  Now of course, I didn't say it like that to a 5 year old exactly and you might think someone so small couldn't understand the concepts, but never underestimate your children, they are a amazing!  Well the result too was amazing!  Instead of spiralling into rebellious behaviour and being cross at all around him, he became Mr Incredible.  His behaviour became cooperative, he was gentle with the kids, guiding them, helpful a real treasure really. With self esteem in tact, his positive natural light could shine and the best in him came forth.

We all know this if we think back, we can remember how we react when we feel bad about a situation versus when we feel good. So in the words of the great Wayne Dyer, "inspire people by helping them to see themselves as better than they are".  When we do that we help them shine the light in the world that they are uniquely here to bring.