Why parents should stop trying to BOOST kids’ self-esteem and start instilling self-confidence instead
Parenting expert and best-selling author Dr. Michele Borba says working on your child’s self-esteem won’t help them thrive (but it could make them more narcissistic). Here, she shares what parents should focus on instead, and offers some tips to help along the way.
Most people think that good self-esteem is their child’s path to happiness and success. That’s why we constantly tell our kids “Believe in yourself,” and “You’re special,” and “You can be anything you want.” We give them trophies and gold stars for breathing (or just about). We solve any problem and never let them fail. But our well-intended efforts are reaping dismal returns. Today’s kids are more depressed than ever, and their narcissism (“I’m better than you”) has increased more than their self-esteem.
Michele Borba, Ed.D., says parents need to redirect their focus away from self-esteem because there’s little evidence that boosting self-esteem increases academic success or even authentic happiness.
“All those participation trophies were for nothing,” says Dr. Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2021, ISBN: 978-0-593-08527-1, $27.00). “Instead of focusing on self-esteem, we need to help our kids develop self-confidence. Once they recognize what they do well, they’re motivated to use those strengths again and again.”
Self-confidence is that quiet understanding of “who I am.” It nurtures inner assuredness and appreciation of one’s unique qualities, strengths, and interests—and serves as a child’s customized road map to peak performance. It’s also one of the seven essential character strengths Dr. Borba has identified that make children Thrivers. In her book she offers parents and educators a new playbook to help them instill in kids the skills that build resilience and help them succeed.
Fixing their problems, doing their tasks, or making things easier for them only makes kids think: “They don’t believe I can.” This is why we as parents must unleash ourselves from hovering, snowplowing, and rescuing.
So, what can we do?
“Identifying our children’s ‘Core Assets’ can be one of our most important parenting tasks, and it is one of the key ways to start instilling a sense of healthy confidence in your child,” says Dr. Borba. “Core Assets are her strongest positive qualities, character traits, and signature talents that can help her thrive. They can be personality features such as friendliness, being a good listener, or being a smart collaborator. They can be character traits like empathy, grit, and kindness. Or they can be talents and gifts like music, acting, and original thinking.”
Just remember, Core Assets are those that you actually recognize in your child—not strengths you hope he possesses or those you see in yourself.
Here are three ways to instill a sense of healthy confidence and stretch your child’s thriving potential.
1. Identify your child’s Core Assets. Over the next few days, tune into your child and identify her strengths, interests, and natural gifts. TALENT describes six common characteristics of Core Assets when exhibited in an individual. Core Assets feature a child’s:
T = Tenacity. The child shows determination and perseverance to succeed at the task involving his asset.
A = Attention. The child is easily absorbed in the task and focuses longer than when compared to other strength areas or Core Assets.
L = Learning. The child learns quicker and easier when using the Core Asset.
E = Eagerness. The child is motivated and energized to be an active participant in the task, and doesn’t need adult prodding or rewards.
N = Need. The child is possessive about the Core Asset: “It’s my thing.” The asset is a confidence booster, relaxer, or fulfiller of a positive need.
T = Tone. The child sounds excited, proud, or joyous when talking about the asset.
2. Acknowledge your child’s Core Assets. Identify a few core strengths that you want your child to recognize about himself right now. Make sure they are legitimate and already present, and then acknowledge them frequently. Be specific so your child knows exactly what he did to deserve recognition. “You’ re patient: you always wait until it’s your turn and never get flustered.” “You’re tenacious: you hang in there and never give up!” “You’re kind. I noticed how you asked that older woman if she needed help.” Kids need to recognize their gifts before they want to put in any effort to improve.
3. Carve time. Many kids say there just isn’t enough time to spend on an interest they love if it isn’t considered “necessary” for school or sports success. We all want to help our children prioritize the skills we think will help them succeed in the world…but by redirecting their time we can inadvertently be quelling their true interests and passions. In fact, studies show that the average American kid gives up their talent because they don’t have enough time to practice their gift.
Check your kid’s schedule: Is there one activity that can be cut that could free up thirty to sixty minutes a week for the strength? Can time playing video games, texting, or TV be reduced? Let’s help kids find time to cultivate their natural gifts while ensuring it’s the gift they love!
“Self-confidence grows when kids know who they are and can apply their special gifts,” concludes Dr. Borba. “Our role is to respect our kids for who they are, and then unleash their assets so they can develop to their fullest potential. If we are to succeed, we must let our kids lead us—and that is one more way we can raise a generation of strong, confident, internally-propelled kids who thrive!”
Michele Borba, Ed.D., is the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine and UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, and is an internationally renowned educational psychologist and an expert in parenting, bullying, and character development. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has spoken in nineteen countries on five continents, and served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations including Sesame Street, Harvard, U.S. Air Force Academy, eighteen U.S. Army bases in Europe and the Asian-Pacific, H.H. the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and a TEDx Talk: “Empathy Is a Verb.” She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career working with over one million parents and educators worldwide. She is a regular NBC contributor who appears regularly on Today and has been featured as an expert on Dateline, The View, Dr. Phil, NBC Nightly News, Fox & Friends, Dr. Oz, and The Early Show, among many others. She lives in Palm Springs, California, with her husband and is the mother of three grown sons.
About the Book:
Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, March 2021, ISBN: 978-0-593-08527-1, $27.00) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.