Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What is the Single Biggest "Gift" We Can Give Our Children?

Hold on. Take a minute to think about this question. If you could give one and only one gift to your child, what would it be? Would you give your child financial riches? Would you give her beauty? Would you give him intelligence? If you could give only one thing that would give your child a leg up in life, what would it be? 

I frequently read in the newspaper about the movie star who finds fame and fortune, only to end up in a drug treatment hospital. Or, the business money mogul who has three ex-wives and a few estranged children. We have heard of generals indicted for being stupid, presidents shamed into retirement, or the religious leaders who lead two different life-styles.

So, what is the best thing we can give our children? What “gift” can help a child in good and bad times? What one “gift” will help our children to avoid the horrors of drugs, stay level headed when good times roll in and keep perspective during life’s pitfalls?

I propose that the best gift a parent can give a child is the home environment that allows their child to build a high self esteem. Research has shown us that children who possess a healthy self esteem deal with life in the safest ways.

If we as parents help our children to build a strong self esteem we give them the best internal tool to deal with their world. With the internal awareness of their own self worth, our children interact with the world with inner contentment and self assuredness. The side effect of our children having high self esteem is that they view the world through this high self esteem. As I will discuss later, high self esteem is an emotional force field protecting our children in the chaos we call life.

How is self esteem built?
Let’s start off by defining what we are talking about. Self esteem goes by many names. Some call it self worth, others self-confidence. The high brow academic set use words like, “the sense of self “ or “ego identity.” Shakespeare said it best, “A rose, is a rose, is a rose,” or something like that. The reality is that we all know what high self esteem or low self esteem look like, but it is hard to put it into words. 
In a nut shell, self esteem is the internal belief we hold about ourselves. What makes it hard to understand and put into words is that it is ever changing. We hold different internal beliefs about our abilities dependent on the situation. 

For example, my five year old son informed me that he couldn’t pick up a hat in the side yard because of spiders. He hadn’t seen any spiders but he was obviously uncomfortable. When he was reminded that he had touched spiders before, he said, “Yeah, but that spider was not hiding to get me!” Is this a self esteem issue? In a way. If, at five, Joshua felt comfortable enough within himself to handle the fears that he pictured, I would not have had to pick up the hat. But, is it a self esteem problem? Definitely not. Josh was not saying to himself, “I’m not able to pick up the hat.” He was saying, “I’m afraid of spiders hiding under the hat and attacking me.” Often parents confuse low self esteem with fear.

The internal belief we hold about ourselves is somewhat situational. Your child may feel that she is the best baseball player since Babe Ruth, but be uncomfortable about joining the team because she doesn’t know any of the other players. When we talk about self esteem, it is important to listen to the child’s words. If we focus too much on the child’s behavior we often miss the true picture.

So, when we talk about self esteem we are really talking about the internal balance of our beliefs of self worth. 

When we are born we enter the world with a personal makeup. This personal makeup is usually called our temperament. The newborn interacts with his world through his temperament. 

Newborns seem to be “pre-wired” to investigate their world. Part of their temperament is to investigate and eventually build relationships with their new world. 

Infant research has shown that newborns have the ability to “interact” with their caregivers from the first moments of birth. Their eyes are developed enough to focus on their mother’s face during the first breast feedings. Infants are able to smell and remember their caregivers.

The individual’s temperament is influential in the formation of the feeling of self worth. We take this sense of self with us throughout our life. For example, a sixty year old can truly say that they are the same, but still a different person than they were when they were six. Our feelings of self worth are with us for a lifetime.

Visit Dr. Copitch's website          excerpted from my book: Basic Parenting 101

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