Children's Self-Esteem Not as Easy as Magic, Author Says

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 16, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Children's Self-Esteem Not as Easy as Magic, Author Says


A new take on ways to improve kids' self-esteem

All parents think their child is the greatest, but how often should you tell him so?

When the youngster deserves it, said Thomas Phelan, author of "123 Magic," a book on children's self-esteem.

Parents worried about boosting their child's self-esteem should keep this in mind: it's something that's earned, not something that's bestowed upon you.

"Research shows in the U.S. overall there is not a problem with self-esteem. If anything, self-esteem in our kids is too high. It has gotten off base," the Glen Ellyn resident said.

Phelan offers five tips that parents can use to strengthen their philosophy of parenting and talks about the effect of the "Junior High Crash" -- a drop in self-esteem that seems to hit girls more than boys.

Every parent wants a successful child and there's a plethora of books out there to instruct novices on the best ways to accomplish that. Many professionals say boost a child's self-esteem and the rewards will follow.

But Thomas Phelan, a clinical psychologist with a new book in stores, says otherwise.

In "Self-Esteem Revolution In Children: Understanding and Managing the Critical Transitions in Your Child's Life," Phelan argues that healthy self-esteem comes from accomplishments that build confidence in one's self, not arbitrary praise.

A Glen Ellyn resident, Phelan and his wife of 30 years, are the parents of two children.

Q. You wrote this book about boosting your child's self-esteem. Why? Is there a problem out there?

A. There's been a lot of attention focused on self-esteem in last 30 to 40 years, and some of it is misdirected. This is the "let's get real about self-esteem" book. A lot of what's been published sees self-esteem as some sort of engine inside a child or adult that motivates them to do well, and if we can somehow magically charge the battery, it will boost your self-esteem and then everything else should go well. It doesn't really work like that. Self-esteem is more like a barometer of how well a person's life is going.

Good self-esteem requires two things: 1. You have to be doing reasonably successfully in your life, and 2. You must have a fair internal judge which I call the "Great Evaluator," which is inside all of us. It tells us how well we're doing.

Research shows in the U.S. overall there is not a problem with self-esteem. If anything, self-esteem in our kids is too high. It has gotten off base. Self-esteem is something that you earn, not something bestowed upon you.

Q. Why is self-esteem so important?

A. Parents must see to it a kid acquires two things - self-esteem and self-discipline. Self-esteem means kids who are competent and parents help them become competent in social and academic areas.

Too much of the time we give our kids unearned or arbitrary praise. After age 8, parents better stop doing that. They know the rules and whether or not they're doing wrong.

People with high self-esteem are not only egocentric, many are very aggressive and abusive people, according to studies of violent offenders, rapists, and murders. But some say in order for people to do these things, they must have low self-esteem. Wrong. Their self-esteem is too high. They think they're God, and you're a worm and they can do anything they want.

Q. Are there five easy tips you can give to parents?

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