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Give The Gift Of Self-Esteem

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During this holiday season, I am always reminded of what we can do for others. As many of you know, I began my career working as a counselor in Florida at a school called New Directions. We were responsible for educating all of the kids in Florida who had been expelled from everywhere else. They were chemically-dependant, runaways and some had even been incarcerated. All of them had had bad experiences in traditional schools. New Directions was nicknamed the “Loser School” that took the “Loser kids.” I hated that expression. The students came from all kinds of backgrounds but they had one thing in common. They all had crippling low self-esteem.

How does self-esteem begin? By the time a child is 3-5 years old, the child’s self-esteem has begun to form. If a child is encouraged by a parent, grandparent or significant other, there is a good chance the encouragement will positively impact the self esteem of the child. If there is little or no encouragement and the child sees much negative interaction between the parents, there is a good chance the child’s self-esteem will be damaged. Children need to know that they are “OK” and unconditionally accepted. This does not mean that there are no consequences for their behavior. In order for children to learn self-discipline, they must be lovingly disciplined. In other words, “You are still lovable even though you are imperfect.” A child needs to learn that one does not have to earn ones worth. Self-esteem is not defined by wealth, education, professional titles, social class, etc. It is accepting who you are no matter what your circumstance. With the current economy and unemployment, many people have had an opportunity to learn this lesson. We have been forced to accept ourselves even if we are unemployed or underemployed, and even if we have faced bankruptcy or foreclosure. I have many friends throughout the world who have lost everything. In most cases, these friends have reframed their losses into an opportunity for growth and change.

As a parent, you can teach your children to have total self-acceptance and spare them from future pain. There are ten basic principles to follow to give the gift of self-esteem to your child (see Side Bar). Love abundantly, be constant, unconditional and separate the feelings for your child from his or her behavior. Judge the behavior, not the person. We all make mistakes, but we are not “a mistake!” So this year give the gift of self-esteem. It will be the best present you have ever given and received!

Give the Gift of Self-Esteem

•   Love abundantly

•   Discipline constructively

•   Punish in private

•   Be reasonable and understanding

•   Be flexible

•   Discourage continued dependency

•   Spend time together playing and talking

•   Remember to tend to your own personal needs

•   Develop mutual respect

•   Really listen


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