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Challenges for Our Children

Researchers have estimated that 25-35% of children in the United States have Learning Disabilities. At least 5% have Attention Deficit Disorders. All too many times during the course of their academic careers these children are labeled by teachers (or parents) as being "lazy," or "stupid." Remarks of this type are typically interpreted by the child as, "You're no good," and the self-esteem levels drop.

At least 50% of children will experience the divorce of their parents prior to turning 18 years old. Most children, for whatever reasons too complicated to go into here, will tend to place at least a portion of the blame for the parent's divorce on themselves. Since the parents are typically placed on a pedestal in the eyes of the child, the blame for the divorce cannot be placed on the parents and must be placed elsewhere, most commonly on themselves. This also significantly impacts children's self-esteem levels.

There are other important challenges to maintaining reasonable self-esteem, such as merely being "average" in a world that worships only the good looking, the good athletes, and the well-to-do.

But can too much self-esteem be bad for you?

Let me say here and now that inappropriately high levels of self-esteem may be worse that low levels. Levels of self-esteem that are too high may lead kids to believe that they are more important than anyone else, and that they should never be frustrated by work or challenges in life. It leads young people to believe that they should always have their way. Inflated levels of self-esteem ultimately discourages children and teens from learning how to work hard, and may well lead into criminal behavior (criminals tend to have high levels of self-esteem, not low levels).

Inflated levels of self-esteem also are directly at odds with the development of one's spirituality and relationship with God. After all, who needs to develop a relationship with God when he believes that what he wants is more important than what God wants? The ultimate out come of the self-esteem movement is seen in the New Age doctrine that you are, in fact, God. Yes you. The guy who can't balance his check book or keep his car fixed. You are God? So they tell us.

People are cheated in every important aspect of their lives, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, when their sense of self-esteem is over-inflated.

So how can we instill appropriate levels of self-esteem in our children?

Briefly, here are five key thoughts . . .

First, change the way that you look at this area of life from "self-esteem" to "self-confidence." There is a difference as wide as the sea.

To "esteem" someone, including one's self, involves feelings of "reverence" or "awe" or "honor" or "glory." Words have meaning. Let's not get carried away with trying to make our kids feel good about themselves by starting to ascribe to them positions of honor normally reserved for God, and perhaps for Presidents and Kings. The majority of our society's problems are caused by people thinking that they are as important or as powerful as God, or at least that they are more important than anyone else in the world. This is not something that we really want to encourage in our children, or in ourselves.

Instead we do want to encourage self-confidence. This attribute becomes especially powerful and beautiful when paired with the virtue of self-control. Raise your children to have these two character traits, and you will have wonderful and successful children, ADD/LD or not.

Second, give lots of encouragement, praise, acceptance, and teach responsibility.

Encouragement comes when you focus on your child's assets and strengths in order to build his/her self-confidence. See the positive. Even failures can be outstanding learning experiences. Encouragement sounds like this, "I like the way that you did that," or "I know that you can do it," or, "It looks like you worked very hard at that."

Encouragement is NOT giving compliments for work poorly done, but under those circumstances it IS inspiring your child to work harder and do better. "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." -St. Paul (Eph. 4:29)

Ultimately self-confidence comes from having accomplished things worth being proud of. Reserve Praise for things well done. Where Encouragement is given for effort, Praise is given for accomplishment. Just say, "That's a good start, keep at it," when the work is not yet worthy of praise. Accept your child for who he/she is. If you expected that your baby would grow into an Olympic athlete with an IQ of 148, and instead he/she is "average" then you might be very disappointed as a parent (most children are "average," which is why they call it "average").

Disappointment is often turned into anger, or at least frustration. If your child cannot live up to your dreams for him or her (and why should they?) then please be careful of your emotions. If you are not careful, your own dreams and expectations for your child will become a wedge between you and your child. Please never make your love, encouragement, or acceptance, dependent on their performance or behavior.

Teach Responsibility to your children.

Let them try things and let them fail once in a while. Don't keep bailing them out. Victory only tastes sweet if we taste the bitterness of failure once in a while. Trust me, the dog's not going to starve if he misses a meal or two. The newspaper won't come to publish a story on your family if your child fails to make his bed once in a while.

Just use these occasions to remind your child that if his dog is going to ever eat again, he needs to get out there and feed it (assuming that's your child's job). Remind your child that he or she is an important member of your home and that he needs to be responsible with doing his chores.

Make the consequences for not being responsible fit the crime. And of course be sure to reward/praise your child when he does act responsibly. Behavior that is rewarded tends to be repeated, and behavior that is ignored tends to go away -- so always reward and praise responsible behaviors in your children.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a family therapist who has been working with ADHD children and their families since 1986. He is the clinical director of the ADHD Information Library's family of seven web sites, including http://www.newideas.net, helping over 350,000 parents and teachers learn more about ADHD each year. Dr. Cowan also serves on the Medical Advisory Board of VAXA International of Tampa, FL., is President of the Board of Directors for KAXL 88.3 FM in central California, and is President of NewIdeas.net Incorporated.

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