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February 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Helping children gain confidence

Building confidence in your children

Dear Dr. Karyn,

Is self-esteem learned or genetic? And if we do learn it, how can I build my daughter’s self-esteem? I’ve read several articles about why it’s important and I’m terribly concerned that my daughter will suffer from low self-esteem, the way that I did growing up. Can you please offer some practical tips?

Dear Parent,

The great news is that self-esteem and confidence are 100 percent learned! Some people think it is genetic, but that is a myth! So how can we help to develop it in our kids? For this month I’m going to give extra information so parents have a clear idea what they can do! Here are three tips:

Model it

The truth is that we learn confidence from a variety of places (culture, media, peers), but after practicing for 16 years, I would say that the best predictor for what kind of confidence our kids will have is what has been modeled by the same-gendered parent. So, fathers to sons, mothers to daughters: pay attention!

We are the most influential teachers on this topic for our kids. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but the great news is that if we are modeling it for our kids, there is a high probability that they will learn it from us! While some people get excited with this information, others honestly feel a little daunted, thinking “Oh, no, so it’s all up to me!” But think about it logically — wouldn’t you rather be the most influential person in your child’s life on this issue versus one of her friends or the media? This really is great news! If you are already feeling confident and you model this consistently, great! She will likely learn this automatically from you (it’s like picking up a language as a child) without you ever having to talk about it! But if you or your spouse struggle with confidence, my number one suggestion is that you get coaching to fix this. This is 100 percent a fixable problem!

Understand it

If you were to read hundreds of articles and journals about this popular topic, you’d learn that self-esteem comes down to one word — “Attitude.” How we think (attitude) impacts how we feel (emotions), which impacts what we do (behavior). If your 10-year-old daughter tells herself “I am too fat” (thought) she will feel “insecure, self conscious, guilty, etc.” (emotions) and this will highly impact her decision making in that she may count calories, weigh herself daily, or be overly obsessive about how she looks (behavior).

If your spouse tells himself “I am worthy only if I make this amount of money this year” (thought) he may feel anxious, overwhelmed, stressed (emotions), which will impact his decision-making. He may become a workaholic (since his self-worth is connected to his net-worth), he may be edgy with your kids and you, or he may find it difficult to relax (behavior). The truth is that emotions are always logical (emotions will feel whatever we tell them), but our thoughts that impact how we feel are NOT always logical (it depends on what we tell ourselves). Experts call these thoughts “internal dialogue” and it’s incredibly powerful!

The two examples above are illogical thoughts (when we examine them objectively). However, as long as people tell themselves these kinds of thoughts, they will always feel insecure and anxious. To fix and build confidence we need to change how we think. A healthy, confident person does not tell herself conditional statements (“I am ok if ______” (ex. I get this position, make this amount of money, date this person, reach this weight). Instead, she tells herself, “I am worthy as I am. If I get this goal, that’s great, but my self-worth does not depend on it”).

Just think about your kids. Can you imagine telling them a conditional statement such as “I love you if _____” — it’s absurd! Loving parents do not put conditions on their love towards their kids. Similarly, someone who has healthy confidence does not put conditions on her self-worth. This internal dialogue is so powerful, and research demonstrates that when people have a genuine healthy confidence they are more likely to set goals and get them because they are fearless, take more risks, and have the guts and courage to charge after their ambition! When we unlock the dialogue in our head and challenge “toxic thinking,” we unleash a powerful force! Just ask yourself — if you were fully confident, did not fear failure, rejection or what others thought — what would you do for 2013?

Affirm character

Your children desperately need to know that you are proud of them. So look for opportunities to affirm them — but focus specifically on their character.

We all hear a lot of talk about praising kids from different experts, and while some people think it gives kids a big head or false self-esteem, I couldn’t disagree more.

The key is that you need to make sure you are affirming the right way, or it may backfire, in addition to giving regular constructive feedback so that it’s not all praise and no substance.

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