When you become a parent, you find yourself enthusiastically encouraging your children with every milestone. From their first step, first word, and every cute thing they do. Then, when they enter toddlerhood, begins the balance of discipline and encouragement (or positive reinforcement). Occasionally our almost 4 year old son will seek congratulations for something he has mastered a long time ago. He has been regressing a bit in behavior, which I feel is a normal response to having an infant sister. He sees her being praised and encouraged for small accomplishments (which are big for her), and wishes for the same attention. When he does not receive it, he acts out.
We tend to be “strict” in the sense that we do not accept nor tolerate certain behaviors in our (almost) 4 year old. He has certain expectations, which are age appropriate. When he spirals out of control we immediately address this behavior. As mentioned in previous posts, we use a technique of taking away an experience or a beloved toy. It has worked very well. My husband and I always reinforce to our son that his choices and behavior are important. Communicating how you feel or what you think are also important. Yesterday, for example, when he began his downward spiral, he stopped himself. He explained to me that he was angry, and feeling frustrated. This was great! I complimented him for the strength it took to calm himself down and express how he was feeling. I explained that I knew that was really hard to do. Then I said “Well, now that you have told me what’s on your mind, we can figure out how to work through this.” He felt very good for having talked through his “troubles” rather than engaging in bad behavior and being punished.
The journey of praise and punishment is hard for parents, as I am finding out first hand. During this process, I have been thinking about how many parents will blindly praise their children in the hopes of building high self-esteem in their child. I understand this, yet I found myself questioning “What good does a bloated self-image provide anyone?” I have met enough people in my life that are full of themselves for no reason, and don’t find it helps them one bit, nor do I want to be around them!
My thoughts then turned toward “What is self-esteem?” In my opinion it is holding oneself in high regard. Well, how can one do that without proof in the pudding?
I then realized, it’s not about self-esteem. Self-esteem in itself is dangerous. There is something much more important.
I began having discussions with my son about respect. Self-respect is the process of having a relationship with yourself in which you want to make good choices for yourself, which in turn builds a feeling of security and trust within yourself. This reflects to the outward world, which is very important. When I have met people who have a reputation of being “good decision makers” or “solid” I tend to pick up on their trustworthy nature, as do most people. This quality, then fosters an individual who has more inner happiness (a self-esteem of trusting themselves). I explained to my son that this is a life process, not something you achieve in one day. Yes, it’s kind of a heavy subject for a 4 year old, but he got the idea.