After jumping down from a tree at the park my son stood up, did a little victory dance and then ran off to play on an obstacle course. It’s a pretty tricky course that requires balance, agility and coordination. It looked like it would take him a while to have it mastered.
Sure enough my son struggled for a while. I saw him fall and get stuck many times but eventually he completed the course.Then he came running to tell me about his adventures. He was excited, recalling many details, like a rope that caught his shoe and a scary moment when he struggled to clip the safety. But one thing he said stood out to me the most.
“I almost fell down like a hundred times mom, and then I finally figured out the whole thing. It was kind of tough. But it was awesome!”
“I saw you!” I told him smiling. It was nice to see this budding confidence coming through, especially because in the toddler years, he was often very frustrated when things didn’t really go his way.
Self-Esteem: It’s Important For Healthy Development
Children with positive self-esteem tend to recognize their abilities and feel proud about what they are able to. When a child’s self-esteem is positive and well balanced, they aren’t afraid of making mistakes because they recognize within themselves the ability to try again (or to quit because it feels right to do so). Most of all, they are able to manage worries, frustrations and the learning process pretty well. Especially when parents are able to encourage and support them along the way.
The way we parent and communicate with our children can certainly have an impact on their self-esteem. There are parenting practices we can strive towards that can help our children maintain (and boost) a positive sense of self.
Here are Ten parenting practices that promote healthy self-esteem:
1. Use Encouraging words: It’s tempting to shout out “You are amazing! You are so smart!” When you notice your child doing something well. But this puts all the focus on outcomes. Self-esteem is actually reinforced when children feel confident in their abilities, even when things are tough. Encouraging words help children stay the course. It might sound like:
- “You fell but you kept going.”
- “You weren’t sure and then I saw you figure it out.”
- “Not yet, it’s true, you haven’t been able to finish yet.”
2. Welcome boredom into your home: It’s really OK for kids to feel like they have nothing to do, and to feel like they are bored. When boredom shows up, children start to get creative. They tap into their inner resources, discover their interests and learn to rely on their own abilities. Allow for plenty of (screen free) unstructured time for your child every day. Even better if you can get them outdoors!
3. Validate feelings without eliminating every obstacle: Every child will face struggles and challenges as they grow. It’s tempting to brush these off or to rescue our children to lessen their burden but this isn’t helpful at all. In fact not letting children face obstacles is worse.
Jane Nelsen D.Ed. and Author of the Positive Discipline Series reminds us of how important it is not to rescue our children from their struggles with this anecdote:
A little boy was watching a butterfly try to break out of the chrysalis. As he watched the butterfly struggle, he felt sorry for it. So he decided to help. He broke open the chrysalis and was so delighted to see the butterfly soar into the sky. But then he watched in horror as it fell to the ground, because the butterfly had not developed it’s muscles.
So, when your child is struggling, try to validate and listen. Have faith that your child will be able to feel a full range of emotions and get through their feelings. You can give them space or stay close and listen. If they are open to it, help problem solve. Just avoid rescuing or shutting down feelings.
4. Teach Self-Care skills: Children are very capable, especially when we allow them to develop skills gradually. Without expectations that are set too high. Show your child how to care for their body, belongings and home. Allow your child to participate in tidying up the house, cleaning their rooms and helping with other life skills such as cooking, writing a shopping list and so on. Self-esteem really starts with knowing you are able to care for yourself, so allow your child to be an activate participant in their care from the very start.
5. Listen: Children need someone to listen to them so they know their voice matters. Strive to make time to be together each day so you can listen to your child talk about accomplishments, fears, worries, ideas and more. A fun way to do this is to end each day with a game of Highs / Lows where you invite your child to tell you some of her favorite and least favorite moments of the day. You can take it a step forward and ask your child how they might change those least favorite moments if they had a do-over.
6. Acknowledge Worries: It’s pretty normal for children to have worries and anxieties. When a child feels like her worries are being understood she is better able to deal with them and move forward. So, try not to dismiss worries and instead acknowledge them. It might sound like “You aren’ t sure if you can do it? Did I understand you?” Or “This is really worrying you. Want to tell me more?” Talking about worries and feeling acknowledged is an opportunity for a child to find and use her inner resources as well.
7. Have Courage & Be Kind: Our children really are watching us and reflecting on the choices that we make. So face your own obstacles, fears and worries with courage. Be kind to yourself, don’t speak badly about your failures or general abilities. Highlight the good and how you worked things out. Of course it’s ok to be authentic and admit defeat, but strive to do so with general compassion and kindness towards yourself. I would encourage you to remember that what you are modeling makes a big impact on your child. You might think you are not good enough, but your child really does look up to you.
8.Welcome mistakes and imperfections: Sometimes we have to try, and try again. Chances are you and your child will both make many mistakes along the way. See these as opportunities to learn, to persevere or to know when to quit and move on. Each mistake can be a chance to learn something new, or at the very least to model what it takes to problem solve.
9. Spend time together: Play, fun and laughter are incredibly powerful ways to connect to your child’s heart and mind. Seize the opportunities that you have to enjoy each other. Children that feel connected to their parents feel good about themselves. (I know parenting is not all sunshine and rainbows – there are many challenging moments but I cannot stress enough how important it is to make time for play and laughter. This practice has tremendous potential to reduce stress, misbehavior and increase your child’s well-being.
10. Use connected, positive discipline: When your child is having a hard time listening, following rules and not cooperating, skip blame and punishments. Focus on working together, on understanding the root of the problem, setting limits well and being present. A respectful, kind and clear approach to discipline helps your child feel secure, loved and understood. A great mix for growing up with a healthy and with balanced self-esteem.
Many people think of ADHD as a disorder of attention or lack thereof. This is the traditional view of ADHD. But ADHD is much more complex. It involves issues with executive functioning, a set of cognitive skills, which has far-reaching effects.
In his comprehensive and excellent book Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress & Helping Children Thrive, developmental behavioral pediatrician Mark Bertin, MD, likens ADHD to an iceberg.
Above the water, people see poor focus, impulsivity and other noticeable symptoms. However, below the surface are a slew of issues caused by impaired executive function (which Bertin calls “an inefficient, off-task brain manager”).
Understanding the role of executive function in ADHD is critical for parents, so they can find the right tools to address their child’s ADHD. Plus, what may look like deliberate misbehaving may be an issue with ADHD, a symptom that requires a different solution.
And if you’re an adult with ADHD, learning about the underlying issues can help you better understand yourself and find strategies that actually work — versus trying harder, which doesn’t.
It helps to think of executive function as involving six skills. In Mindful Parenting for ADHD, Dr. Bertin models this idea after an outline from ADHD expert Thomas E. Brown. The categories are:
ADHD isn’t an inability to pay attention. ADHD makes it harder to manage your attention. According to Bertin, “It leads to trouble focusing when demands rise, being overly focused when intensely engaged, and difficulty shifting attention.”
For instance, in noisy settings, kids with ADHD can lose the details of a conversation, feel overwhelmed and shut down (or act out). It’s also common for kids with ADHD to be so engrossed in an activity that they won’t register anything you say to them during that time.
This is the “ability to monitor your own physical activity and behavior,” Bertin writes. Delays in this type of executive function can lead to fidgeting, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
It also can take longer to learn from mistakes, which requires being aware of the details and consequences of your actions. And it can cause motor delays, poor coordination and problems with handwriting.
This includes organizing, planning, prioritizing and managing time. As kids get older, it’s task management (and not attention) that tends to become the most problematic.
Also, “Unlike some ADHD-related difficulties, task management doesn’t respond robustly to medication,” Bertin writes. This means that it’s important to teach your kids strategies for getting organized.
People with ADHD can have poor working memory. “Working memory is the capacity to manage the voluminous information we encounter in the world and integrate it with what we know,” Bertin writes. We need to be able to temporarily hold information for everything from conversations to reading to writing.
This explains why your child may not follow through when you give them a series of requests. They simply lose the details. What can help is to write a list for your child, or give them a shorter list of verbal instructions.
Kids with ADHD tend to be more emotionally reactive. They get upset and frustrated faster than others. But that’s because they may not have the ability to control their emotions and instead react right away.
Individuals with ADHD have difficulty sustaining effort. It isn’t that they don’t value work or aren’t motivated, but they may run out of steam. Some kids with ADHD also may not work as quickly or efficiently.
Trying to push them can backfire. “For many kids with ADHD, external pressure may decrease productivity …Stress decreases cognitive efficiency, making it harder to solve problems and make choices,” Bertin writes. This can include tasks such as leaving the house and taking tests.
Bertin features a list of other signs in Mindful Parenting for ADHD because many ADHD symptoms involve several parts of executive function. For instance, kids with ADHD tend to struggle with maintaining routines, and parents might need to help them manage these routines longer than other kids.
Kids with ADHD also have inconsistent performance. This leads to a common myth: If you just try harder, you’ll do better. However, as Bertin notes, “Their inconsistency is their ADHD. If they could succeed more often, they would.”
Managing time is another issue. For instance, individuals with ADHD may not initially see all the steps that are required for a project, thereby taking a whole lot more time. They may underestimate how long a task will take (“I’ll watch the movie tonight and write my paper before the bus tomorrow”). They may not track their time accurately or prioritize effectively (playing until it’s too late to do homework).
In addition, people with ADHD often have a hard time finishing what they start. Kids may rarely put things away, leaving cabinets open and leaving their toys and clothes all over the house.
ADHD is complex and disruptions in executive functioning affect all areas of a person’s life. But this doesn’t mean that you or your child is doomed. Rather, by learning more about how ADHD really works, you can find specific strategies to address each challenge.
And thankfully there are many tools to pick from. You can start by typing in “strategies for ADHD” in the search bar on Psych Central and checking out Bertin’s valuable book.
A number of students are referred to me exhibiting signs related to behavioural and emotional challenges. More times than not, I will see clients who are moderate to severe in their behaviours. So we’re talking about students who are involved in disruptive behaviours or illicit activities, atypical behaviours, and consistent violators of school policies. To be more specific, these are children who were referred to the multidisciplinary team, for the following issues at school and at home:
- verbally abusive
- fighting with fist and weapons
- uncontrollable sudden outbursts of anger
- constant stealing
- excessive lying
- drugs and alcohol abuse etc.
Generally, I will begin with a Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA) on the student. This will include a number of observations, interviews with teachers, parents and the student, along with checking reports from other stakeholders. The objective is to get as much information as possible.
Over the years I have come to notice that behavioural or emotional challenges do not always exist in isolation (in this case only in one particular setting), but, sometimes their expressions do.
Some years ago, after graduate school, as I was starting off as a psychologist working with children with emotional and behavioural disorders, at the time I did not realise there was so much more I had to learn. I remember taking the approach that clients will be consistent in their behaviours, regardless of the environment they were placed in. But human beings are not like programmed robots. For instance, if we install software on our laptops, then regardless of where we are in the world, it should work the same. So, if I take my laptop to Europe, Africa, United States or the Caribbean, when the icon for Microsoft Office Word is clicked, the program will open. People should be the same, right? No! This approach will be so wrong.
Behaviour is affected biochemically, but environmental factors (or lack of specific ones) around us, also influences our reactions or expressions.
It is therefore very important, that to reduce or to completely eradicate an unwanted behaviour, we look at things which maybe contributing as fuel to the behaviour. When this is identified, we should manipulate it to modify the behaviour.
Now, the understanding that children are affected by their environment has vital importance on the way they learn as well. For this reason, as an educational psychologist working with teachers and students, I encourage teachers to create an environment with things that acts as positive stimuli. These positive stimuli may include:
- a library,
- adequate space for group work and other social interactions,
- proper lighting and temperature,
- and a reasonably outfitted soundproofed room etc.
What are some additional features you believe can be used to act as positive stimuli to our children learning?