How To Build A Child's Self-Esteem
The self-esteem movement is a perfect example of how noble intentions can so easily go astray. Self-esteem and self-confidence are indeed important. It's the way this knowledge is misinterpreted and taken to an unhealthy extreme that's the problem.
Self-esteem can't be artificially manufactured through happy thoughts or unearned compliments. True self-esteem of the kind that actually helps a child is built from experience, not from adults telling you how wonderful you are all the time. It comes from being able to live with the knowledge that some people are better at certain things than you, and being ok with that because you have confidence in other areas where you excel. It's about weaving what you're good at and not-so-good at into a collective identity and being happy with the outcome. It's NOT built by failing to keep score at sports events so that every child thinks they won. Psychologist Dan Klindon, Ph.D., author of Tough Times, Strong Children, sums it up in saying: "You get confidence from overcoming adversity, not from being told how great you are all the time." (Patz, 2010)
One meta-analysis of 200 separate studies published in Psychological Science and the Public Interest found that having a high self-esteem didn't actually translate into better grades or more successful careers. (Patz, 2010) Stanford psychologist Carol S. Dweck has done extensive research demonstrating that competence comes from recognizing the basis of accomplishment; understanding that success comes from things like hard work and perseverance, and that practice makes students more likely to see themselves as competent. This in turn translates into self-esteem of the real kind. Other studies have found that who becomes an Olympic champion depends less on athletic prowess, and more on things like the ability to focus, mental toughness, facility with setting goals, competitiveness, confidence, coachability, drive, optimism and emotions control. (Subotnik, Olzwewski-Kubilius & Worrell, 2012) The aforementioned psychologists note that "believing that intelligence and talent are malleable motivates a person to put in the daunting amount of effort necessary to achieve goals." This is the precise opposite of what the self-esteem movement promotes.
Ashley Merryman, coauthor of Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children, argues that we've somehow come to the idea that "children are very fragile and that any bad outcome they experience, no matter how big or small, could damage their developing self-esteem." She adds: "Science has proven that it's just not true. Achievement builds self-esteem, not the other way around." (Sholnik, 2012)