Raising your child’s self-esteem without making them spoilt and entitled

The digital revolution has brought many advantages, but it has also had some less desired effects—especially for children.

For a great many children, their lives are dominated by social media and many spend their spare time competing with friends over who can post the perfect ‘selfie’. Some psychologists argue that the implications of this are quite significant because in a relatively short space of time, it seems that children have become more self-centred, entitled and narcissistic.

An interesting article titled, ‘The selfie generation: How to avoid raising a narcissistic child’ explores this very topical subject in greater detail. It discusses the ways in which well intentioned parents who are trying to boost their child’s self-esteem can inadvertently end up feeding their child’s sense of self-importance and entitlement instead.

Starting in the toddler years, self-centeredness is completely normal and necessary part of development. But as children grow, this can lead to a sense of entitlement and selfish attitudes as they may see themselves as the centre of the universe.

As parents, we all want our kids to have plenty of confidence and self-esteem. But trying to instill these attributes in our children can be tricky because there’s a very fine line between nurturing their self-esteem and causing them to develop an inflated sense of their own importance.

As the article explains, “although self-esteem is always a good thing, some experts say many parents are raising children who are self-centered and entitled. And that superiority, ironically, is rooted in poor self-esteem.”

This is often as the result of an overprotective style of parenting, typically referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’, which usually stems from a desire to be the ‘perfect parent’. In hovering over our children and trying to make sure they are happy at all costs, rather than building their self-esteem, we end up giving them a false sense of their own importance.

For example, protecting them from negative emotions and experiences can create a sense of anxiety as they start to realise that they aren’t the centre of the universe in the ‘real world’. And this realisation causes them to feel that they can’t function without the constant praise and encouragement from their parents and those around them, and they are left feeling anxious, insecure and incompetent as a result.

So if we want to raise confident children, perhaps the question isn’t whether we should raise our kids’ self-esteem but rather on how we choose to do it.

Here are five top tips to help you raise your child’s self-esteem in a way that won’t cause them to become spoilt and entitled:

  1. Let them experience frustration and disappointment. This involves allowing your child to make mistakes as this will help them train their ‘disappointment muscles’, which will make them build grit, determination and resilience, and they’ll be less likely to act like ‘superior’ children in the long term.
  2. Develop empathy and gratitude. Find opportunities for your children to practice gratitude so they will appreciate what they have and be more empathic towards others. Here are some ideas to develop gratefulness and empathy: encourage your children to start a gratitude journal or simply ask them to share what they are grateful for at the end of each day. Or  they can donate toys, collect food for the local food bank or volunteer for a local organization or charity. Volunteering for a good cause or donating toys to people less fortunate than themselves is a great way to get children thinking about what it might be like to be in another person’s shoes. Try to encourage them to consider the feelings of other people (and it can start with their siblings) as much as possible so that they become more aware of the impact that their behaviour has on others.
  3. When praising your child, it’s important to avoid using ‘evaluative praise’. We often use words like ‘smart‘ or ‘clever’ in the hope that it will provide encouragement and support to our kids, but despite our best intentions this can give them a sense of entitlement, or in some cases make them afraid of failure. This is because when a child is called ‘smart’ or ‘clever’ they can begin to identify with this label and feel that they have to live up to this perception all of the time. As a result, they’ll start to avoid taking on new challenges for fear of making a mistake and having their abilities, or lack thereof, ‘exposed’. Focusing on the effort that your child has put into an exam or activity rather than their performance or the outcome is equally important as this encourages children to keep trying regardless of whether they are ‘successful’ or not. Focusing on effort rather than achievements also helps prevent your child from becoming anxious about making a mistake, so they will have the confidence to take on new challenges.
  4. Teach your child how to self-evaluate. A child with the ability to self-evaluate is more likely to develop an objective and balanced view of their position in the world, rather than an inflated view that is wholly dependent on the praise they receive from others. What you ultimately want is for your children to develop their own power of self-evaluation and self-awareness. Without a healthy level of self-awareness, children can become ‘praise junkies’ who are dependent on you to tell them if they are doing well. They can develop a kind of ‘false self’, which they adopt and adapt to please the adults around them or to get what they need from the world. To nurture your child’s ability to self-evaluate and help them acknowledge their achievements, instead of saying “I’m so proud of you”, try asking them, “You worked hard and did so well on this test, are you proud of yourself?”, or “Are you happy with the result?”. And once they answer, “Yes I am,” you can always add: “I am proud of you too!”.
  5. Set clear limits. It’s important for our kids to know that while we’ll always love them unconditionally, there are still certain behaviours that simply won’t be tolerated. This teaches kids that while their needs are important, they don’t come over and above the needs of others.

You can find other effective step-by-step tools and tips that will help you raise your child’s self-esteem in a way that won’t cause them to become spoilt, narcissistic or entitled in our book Raising Confident Kids.

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