How to Boost Self Esteem in Kids

How to Boost Self Esteem in Kids

By: Loren Lomme, MA, LPC, RPT

There’s been a lot of debate lately about how to praise kids and give them attention and how much is too much….especially in the form of “helicopter parenting” – that horrible name given to the style of parenting that looks a lot like smothering and over involvement in a kid’s life. This often comes up alongside topics such as raising independent kids, building/hindering self-esteem and confidence, and nurturing our kids. I’m going to speak to the topic of self-esteem and confidence, what this means for our kids, and how we as parents can appropriately foster it in our children without discouraging autonomy.

Now, more than ever, our kiddos are having a hard time maintaining self-esteem. The usual fear of judgment by peers and self is still present, but it’s now accompanied by the pressures and prevalence of social media in our environments and relationships. It’s no wonder that our kids are second guessing their every move when it could show up on an Instagram account for their entire grade to see. It’s not only scary for us as parents, but there is often very little we can do to control the choices our kids’ peers make that may affect how our kids feel about themselves. We can, however, build self-esteem at home (and from a young age) so that they can better weather the inevitable storms of middle school, high school, and beyond.

Start with considering that kids behavior is a reflection of their beliefs. So if a child believes they are capable of success, they are more likely to attempt a new or difficult task. You can empower your child to believe the best about themselves by telling your child when you notice something positive that they have done. “You’ve been working really hard on that science project….You put your backpack and shoes away without any reminders today….I saw you getting upset with your friend, but you were able to stop yourself from pushing him….You made your entire lunch by yourself today.” Notice how all of these positive reflections are about behavior. When parents only tell kids things like “great job” or “that’s a really pretty picture,” kids will often dispute or negate those types of generalized statements because they may not believe them or agree with them and they can’t be proven.

Teach your child to be a problem-solver instead of feeling like he or she IS the problem.

One of my kiddos struggled with losing important belongings for quite a while. Her purse would get left at a friend’s house, her wallet would get lost at the mall, etc. She would get really upset after these incidents occurred and blame herself for being “stupid” or “irresponsible.” In my frustration of yet another lost item, I could have followed up with, “You are always setting your stuff down and forgetting it.” First of all, I would have not helped the situation at all, and secondly, I would have contributed to her negative view of herself in the moment and to her feeling of “I can’t do anything right.” Instead we would have conversations with her about how she could help herself keep track of her belongings. We tried to help her problem-solve with questions like, “What could you do or use to remember what you’re supposed to bring home from the sleepover?” In this way, she was empowered to start solving her own problems and we sent the implicit message that we had confidence in her ability to figure this out and get past it. When you try this with your own kids, remember to encourage any progress that they make, even if it’s small!

Next up in building self-esteem, help set your kids up for success and work with them to keep setbacks in perspective.

We all have a tendency toward all or nothing thinking when we are disappointed or discouraged…”I’ll never get it right” or “I’m not smart,” but kids are extra susceptible to these thoughts when something goes wrong. You can increase their confidence by helping them look at a situation through a different lens. “I know you’re frustrated about missing that goal during your soccer game, but that was only one game. You’ll have 6 more games this season.” Then set your kid up for success. Don’t expect that they will magically be better next time without any work or problem-solving. Ask them, “what could we do this week to help you get better at scoring goals?” Encourage their ideas, “What a great idea, let’s make a plan to make it happen!” Then follow through!! If your kid decided to practice kicking 10 goals each day after school this week, remind them of their plan and go outside to help them and cheer them on. When their action pays off, they’ll be more confident to try again when things don’t work out in the future instead of giving up. I always emphasize that perfect is the enemy of better when I work with kids or adults.

Lastly, take advantage of your parent status and the fact that kids tend to believe what their parents say and do.

Find creative ways to show your child how awesome you think they are. Let your child “accidentally” overhear you telling your spouse about the amazing thing they did today or tell grandma about something positive from the week so that she can tell your kiddo how much you were bragging about him the next time she sees him. Hang up a “You did it!” dry erase board in the kitchen and make sure to update it each day with something positive that you noticed your child doing that day. It’s there for everyone to see, including your child, and when he or she has had a rough day and is feeling down on themselves, they will still be able to see the positives that the people they love see in them. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had one of these?! The more often that you can incorporate these and other esteem-building ideas into your relationship with your children, the higher self-worth they will have. With higher self-esteem they will also have increased optimism and commitment, have greater resiliency, and be better able to accept disagreement and uncertainty…all of which are building blocks to more positive relationships with others and themselves. 

Equally important to acknowledging and praising effort is helping your child learn to manage failure. It happens to everyone, and kids that have a hard time dealing with failure will also be less likely to attempt new or challenging activities. It’s not realistic to be the best at everything, so when something goes wrong or not as expected, use this as an opportunity to help your child manage their emotional reaction and realize that they can survive messing up. Non-judgmental parent reactions are key here.

If you would like parenting advice or therapy for your children, let us know and we will be glad to help.

How to procrastinate efficiently

How to Procrastinate Efficiently

By: Laura Rifkin, LCSW

On your mark, get set…

I have been trying to write a blog post for over six months.  I almost finished one back in November, but I didn’t like how it was turning out and scrapped it before it even finishing.  Fast forward to last week when I had a phone call with a consultant from a well-known personality questionnaire to discuss the results of my recent assessment.  She noted my high need for a literary outlet in my life, and I shared about my 2016 writing roadblock.  

Her external feedback—“hmmm, very interesting”—was motivating enough to get me to open up a Word Doc, and more than that, it prompted me to internally reflect on why it was so hard to start doing something that I want to do.  The timing of this post was by no means designed to line up with the beginning of the year, but it’s January 11th and I imagine I’m not the only trying to do something differently right now.  

So why does starting have to be such a challenge?

For me, this blog post is totally optional and I certainly don’t have an editor or a deadline hovering over me.  I think the same is often true for learning a language, engaging in a workout program, opening a retirement account, and many of the other things in life we want to do, but are not yet doing.  It is tough to get up and going.  Maybe it’s because our lives tend to be so full, and an optional task is easily replaced by a mandatory one.  

Fear of failure can often keep a new idea or plan grounded before there is even an opportunity to launch.  If this were an in-person presentation, I would now click to the slide that offers the adage, “hard work pays off in the long run, but procrastination pays off now”.  Getting started also means making a change, and change doesn’t always come easily.  

In the Transtheoretical Model, or in less jargon-y terms, the Stages of Change model, this likely puts us in the Contemplation or Preparation Stage.  We have identified that we want to make a change and have maybe even taken a couple of steps to get ready, but we haven’t modified any behaviors yet.  Whether we like it or not, many of us are creatures of habit and it can be very tough to do things differently.  In general, we get better at things with practice, which can often lead to habits and patterns that are easy to stay in, even if we want to switch them up.   The idea of starting a new hobby and not finishing, trying and failing, or simply finding the time can all be reasons to keep us where we are.

A few helpful tips

Many people can come up with ten reasons why something won’t work, but will struggle with thinking of two reasons why it might.  As a therapist, I see a lot of clients who want to make changes in their lives and have trouble getting started, and as a human, I have experienced this personally and with loved ones.  Here are a few strategies to try out if you are standing next to the horse, but have yet to get on and ride:

  1. Start somewhere:  My parents like to tell a story about when I was little and couldn’t master the word “grandma”.  They said I would only use words I could pronounce correctly, and there I was, stumped on the name of someone I love dearly and saw frequently.  I eventually started calling her “granga”, which my family thought was so cute and everyone was sad when I finally got it figured out – except for me.  I still experience this feeling when I attempt to use the minimal Spanish I know, but whatever embarrassment I feel initially is almost always quickly soothed when someone can tell that I’m making an effort. Remember, it takes a lot of courage to be imperfect.
  2. Approach with curiosity:  Shame and self-judgment can be major roadblocks when starting something new and can keep people in a holding pattern.  A strategy for avoiding that traffic is to be curious, rather than critical.  Telling yourself that this new activity is an experiment and inviting curiosity can help to stave off expectations and fear of failure.
  3. Don’t think, just do:  This post is a real-life example of the “don’t think, just do” strategy.  My thoughts began wandering, yet again, to the post I’d been wanting to write, but instead of getting stuck on all of the details or forcing it out of my mind, I just opened up a Word Doc and began typing.  I basically hit the pause button on my analyzing and second-guessing, suspending the things that were keeping me in this holding pattern.  Getting my ideas and sentences out in the open and in one place gave me somewhere to begin, kind of like sorting out the edges on a puzzle before putting them together.  

Often times once you begin whatever has been in “on your mark, get set” mode, the activity or task becomes inherently more motivating, and we can shed whatever was initially holding us back. 

What is Marriage Counseling?

What is Marriage Counseling?

When you have issues in your marriage where do you turn for help?  If you are a private person (or are concerned about people judging you, your partner, or you marriage), then you might frantically google search books and podcasts for advice.  Many people seek out friends and family, or their spiritual leaders, for guidance on marital issues.  This often looks like one person venting frustrations and hoping for wise words to fix the discord.  These solutions can be helpful, but sometimes they are not enough.  Every marriage has it’s own unique set of challenges and this is where marriage counseling can be helpful.  To better understand, let’s look at five ways that marriage counseling works.

Setting Aside Time to Talk with a Trained Professional

The first thing marriage counseling does is set a place and time to talk (see my post on “Why Time is Important in Relationships).  We live increasingly busy lives.  Add to that technological advances like streaming movies and smart phones and it is easy to avoid the challenging conversations that every marriage faces.  People often use temporary escapes to cope with the stressors in a marriage, and though these methods offer immediate relief to strife they do not help couples develop lasting solutions.  You can’t play Angry Birds every time your partner wants to talk about the sexual problems you have in the relationship.  Working with a marriage counselor guarantees that there is a set time and safe place to talk about difficult issues with someone who is trained in relationship work.  Knowing that there is a weekly time to address relationship issues helps to decrease tension in the relationship during the rest of the week.  Concerns and complaints no longer hang in the air, waiting for some arbitrary incident to set off a fight (Learn How To Fight Right).  Instead, you have an established container and guide to aid you in dealing with problems.

Gaining Knowledge and Breaking Myths

Marriage counseling is a place to better understand how relationships work.  The process shines light on common myths about marriage that actually do damage to relationships.  A common myth about marriage is that partners must do everything together, otherwise there is something awry in the relationship.  The reality is that people in a relationship need an individual self as well as a relationship self.  How can we miss or desire that which is always there?  A little room for an individual self actually allows couples to be closer to each other.  This is just one of many marriage myths, there are plenty more.  Marriage counseling provides a space to confront notions of what being married means to you and your partner.  It offers a place to consider what is useful to your relationship and what ideas about relationships can be discarded.  A marriage therapist will also help partners understand the unique dynamics in their own relationship.  If you feel like you’ve been having the same conversation around a sour subject with your partner for years it’s because you have, and a marriage therapist will provide feedback and understanding in a way that will help new insights to develop.  Rather than a well-meaning saying borrowed from a meme, you’ll get a tailor made solution that you and your partner collaborated on and agreed to honor. (Also check out Four Factors that Predict Relationship Investment)

Dealing with the Past

One major role of marriage therapy is to help couples deal with the past.  The past of each individual and, and past as a couple.  People are not always aware of how their current actions are influenced by past relationships with family and former partners.  A marriage therapist facilitates a conversation about the past, and uses those revelations to help couples put current problems in perspective.  For example, someone who felt financially taken advantage of by their family might have some strong convictions about spending when it comes to their marriage. A deeper understanding and empathy for the past can help ongoing conflicts be talked about in a new way.  Marriage therapy is also a place to address unresolved grievances in your own marriage.  Bottled up resentments turn into contempt, which will end a marriage.  Marriage counseling provides a healthy environment to address past hurts and make amends.

Honest Communication and Learning Skills

The Gottmans’ say that under every complaint there is a deep longing, and marriage counseling is one way to access the skills to express those longings.  As couples describe an interaction that lead to conflict, a marriage counselor will listen for the unexpressed desires in the retelling of the incident.  With some thoughtful questions from the therapist, both partners are better able to state their needs.  Suddenly, an argument about being late to church is reframed as a desire to honor an obligation to teach Sunday school and a want for a stress free weekend after a stress filled week.  Understanding and empathy will replace a desire to be right.  Not only will a marriage therapist help couples have more honest communication in the session, but there will be skills taught to practice outside of the session.  Homework provides practice, which leads to mastering the art of honest communication.

Creating Solutions and a Future

Marriage therapy is about helping a couple learn skills so that they can collaborate and develop solutions to the challenges they face, that way they can have more space to talk about their visions for their shared future.  Marriage therapists are there to support the relationship, not decide which partner is correct or pick a course of action for the relationship.  There are many ways to spend your time on this planet, and just as many ways to be in a relationship.  A marriage therapist helps clients learn how to work together and choose ways to be in relationships that are best suited for them.

Ultimately marriage counseling is about partners in a relationship discovering their communication styles so that they can discuss anything.  People don’t leave marriage counseling with every answer to the problems they will face as a couple, they leave with the knowledge and skills to connect; and as a team take on the challenges they will face.  If you are not feeling like your spouse is your teammate right now, then some marriage counseling might help your relationship get back on track.  Call us today and we will work with you to find a marriage counselor who can guide you.


Four Factors That Predict The Investment In A Relationship

Four Factors That Predict The Investment In A Relationship

There are many factors that determine whether a relationship is successful or not but one research study focused on four factors which help to predict investment in a relationship. This isn’t to say that a relationship with these things can’t fail, it just means that the investment is greater and it is associated with more positive outcomes.

  1. Size of their investment – The social worlds overlap with tons of overlap in family and friends makes it much less likely. Think about the couple that has been together since high school or maybe their families were closely connected. Another example of investment can be financial. Financial connections to one  another person like buying a house, starting a business, etcetera can also be factors that increase connection.
  2. Persistence – What is your philosophy on commitment? What was your parents marriage like? What has your commitment to previous relationships been like? Is this one different and why? What is your value system around marriage? If an individual has strong persistence in relationships, it tends to also mean they don’t let difficult issues sit. They work through problems with their partner.
  3. Comparison level for alternatives – Devaluing vs over valuing or more simply put, comparison shopping in relationships. Examples of this include people who are constantly comparing their partner to others in their lives and valuing the positive traits of that comparison over their partner. This can be a slippery slope as this can grow into feelings about a coworker or a friend which can begin the process of an emotional affair.
  4. Commitment – This is simply put as being with someone no matter what. You mean it when you say through sickness and in health in marriage. This can be tough for some to stomach as both people change in relationships and marriage. Sometimes these changes are for the better, sometimes they are more challenging. Those who highly value commitment are in it for the long haul and will work through whatever difficulties may arise. They value their commitment to their partner above all else.

All of the above said, when those things have been weakened, the challenge is to see what an individual can do to work on strengthening their relationship investment — i.e. Stop comparison shopping, increase their persistence and commitment by looking for ways to build it, and looking for opportunities to increase their investment (socially, financially, etc) in the relationship. If areas are weak, they can be rebuilt. This often becomes a goal in couples counseling. If you would like to learn more about couples counseling, contact us for a consultation. Want to learn more tips on relationships?

Pro tip: Curious about ways to build trust in a relationship?