10 Top Tips on How to Discipline Without Breaking Your Child’s Spirit.
My teen son has Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) so is hugely resistant to being parented. When I was kind, he ignored me, but when I was punitive, his self-esteem plummeted. Three years ago, I gave up traditional parenting and our relationship has blossomed. He has a much healthier level of self-esteem and behaves better too. Use these inclusive tips by me, Sharon Eshmade, a counsellor, parenting coach, teacher, author, and mum-of-a-teen with behaviour and learning difficulties, to help you boost your child’s self-confidence.
It’s challenging not to compare your child to others. I was once on holiday sitting on the beach and a mother was lying in the shade relaxed and watching her two young daughters play in a lagoon. The older girl was playing beautifully with her younger sister and made sure she held her hand when the water was a little too deep and constantly kept an eye on her.
At one point the two girls made their way to the furthest bank. It wasn’t particularly far and there were some boulders where my sons, of a similar age, were clambering. As the girls’ feet touched the soft dry sand on the opposite bank of the lagoon, the mother gently called the older daughter’s name. Immediately she stopped moving toward the rocks, gently took her sister’s hand and calmly walked back through the water to her mother. When closer, their mother told her daughters not to go near the rocks.
All the time we were there on that beach, the girls didn’t go near the rocks. It was so easy. So effortless. So… gentle. And this is the experience of discipline for some families with easygoing children. These children have a low sense of will. The balance is in place, and effortless to maintain.
A more challenging question to me at the time was, how do we get children that are resistant to everything we say and do, to listen? We can accept that some children are more wilful than others and exhibit challenging behaviour but how do you get them to do what is expected of them?
When harmony was lost, and an incorrect choice was made, I couldn’t yet understand how we could show our children how to make the right choice without ignoring the situation and hoping that they would grow out of the phase or, break their sense of self in the process.
I needed my children to be less wilful alongside having a strong sense of self. I wanted my children to be brimming with self-esteem but also less defiant. At that time, I couldn’t fathom how to get this right.
First, we must understand what we are referring to when we talk about self-esteem. We know that we all want it, and we want it for our children but what exactly is it? How do we get more of it? Why don’t we all have oodles of it? Why can’t we just get more?
1. What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is very personal. It is the self-judgments we make. A synonym for respect is esteem. It lies in self-meaning, self-identity, self-image, and self-concepts.
When we are raising our children, we need to make sure that we balance those two important aspects of their self-esteem, their sense of ‘self’ and their ‘will’. See each one of these aspects at either end of a scale. The will of some children is less determined and easily malleable than others. They quickly grasp the concept of cause and effect.
Controversially, having a robust level of self-esteem requires us to be selfish. We need to teach our children to be selfish and have their needs met while also being thoughtful of others. I was raised where respect towards adults was a top priority and I was often scolded for being selfish, so I learned that I had to put the needs of others ahead of my own. In making others happy, I was good enough. This is the way in which some individuals develop mental health challenges and can find themselves in unhealthy co-dependent relationships later in life. Our children need to have a robust sense of self first while also balancing being thoughtful, kind and compassionate towards others. Getting this balance right involves making lots of mistakes and a long time to internalise. Please be patient while your child masters this extremely complex skill.
2. Self-esteem is knowing ourselves
Fundamentally, we are talking about our sense of personal regard, respect, and appreciation to determine our qualities, quantities, and character, which are judged by contemplating:
Who we are
What we do
What we have
The way we appear
To whom or what we are attached
It may be useful to go through each one of these elements regarding yourself. List different and specific ways in which each element is satisfied. Undoubtedly, some aspects will overlap as who we are is so easily linked to other aspects of our sense of esteem.
When I completed this exercise, I identified ten strong aspects that added to my sense of esteem, but two specific areas hijacked those positive characteristics. This helped me to realise the importance of these positive and negative elements in supporting me to understand, work towards gaining and accepting myself.
It might also be useful to complete this excise with your children. I recently completed this activity with a young client. Her responses were centred around being a good daughter, student, having a phone and being attractive. All of these value judgements are external and are the reason she has a low self-esteem. For example, if her parents were to have an argument with her, if she were to fail or was unable to get a job after leaving university, lost her phone and grew older, she would ‘lose’ what made her feel confident in herself, her self-esteem. The fragile nature of her self-esteem was due to her relying, and being dependent on, others or experiences or affiliations or external characteristics to feel good enough in herself. This leaves an individual in a very vulnerable position, especially if others don’t live up to those expectations.
When completing this activity, ensure that you focus on internal judgements, such as “I am a strong and important person who is gaining skills at university. I support and care for myself and others with kindness and loyalty. I appear confident because I believe in myself and accept myself for who I am.” No matter what goes wrong in our lives, if we have internal strength and resilience, we are far less likely to be vulnerable when life goes wrong, which it will.
Depending on whether we feel positive or negative internal personal judgements on these essential components, will determine our self-esteem. While we are younger, we take on the beliefs of those closest to us, those that we love and trust and see as our role models, to determine collectively who we are. When younger, this gives enormous power and responsibility to those in our immediate environment.
This makes perfect sense, how else are we to know where we fit in the world? It’s mirrored in the eyes, facial expressions and body language, words, and actions of those who love us the most. When we punish our children, they quickly learn that they are not good enough and must please us to be loved. Punishing children decreases their self-esteem.
Therefore, not loving our children unconditionally swiftly and quickly breaks down their self-esteem. If you have a child that you recognise has a low level of self-esteem, I encourage you to begin by looking at the way you can impact the five aspects of self-esteem stated above and determining whether your child has a positive or negative internal view of each based on the role you play in their life.
Building up your child’s positive internal personal judgement for each statement can significantly impact their sense of self positively.
3. How we make it worse: 1
We believe that life is a competition, so if our kids judge themselves above others, then surely, they are better and will feel better. Constantly chasing unobtainable expectations, reduces and swiftly corrodes their self-esteem.
4. How we make it worse: 2
We use superlatives and are toxically positive. We say our kids are the prettiest, and brightest. They realise they aren’t so believe they are the ugliest, stupidest, and worst, which they must hide from us. Our kids slap on a smile and mask their feelings while their self-esteem plummets. They then attach to and value the perceptions of others who hold these external qualities, which makes them feel that they will never be good enough, because these characteristics are out of their control. Alternatively, they connect with their peers who have also been found wanting, which explains why rebelling and gang affiliation can be so attractive to some teens.
5. How we get it right
One way that we as parents can make a significant positive impact is with the fifth and final statement. When we question whether we love our children unconditionally and then ensure that we demonstrate this fact explicitly to them, it will impact them positively. Of course, having low self-esteem is not so easily solved but it is a good place to start.
When we love our kids unconditional for being their true authentic selves and treat them with a high level of positive regard, they blossom into individuals with a strong self-identity and healthy self-respect.
6. Hold them accountable, kindly
Our children need to know that they can always disagree with us and even have a heated debate but that we always aim to be respectful in our words and actions. As a synonym for respect is esteem, we need to hold each other in high esteem and work towards raising children with a strong sense of self-respect or self-esteem.
In healthy adult relationships, we can hold each other accountable with a firm discussion, debate and even an argument. Thankfully, this works with our kids too. It’s no quick fix but it’s how we establish healthy boundaries while kindly reducing their wilfulness. Strong foundations sustain our child’s attachment to us and resilience later in their lives.
My children often tell me that I don’t love them for who they are because I hold them accountable for their poor behaviour. I explain to my children that they are not their behaviour. I love them and always will, and yes, even if they take someone else’s life (as I needed to clarify with my teen). I may not accept, appreciate or condone their behaviour but I will always show up and be there loving them. Finding this balance in your parenting is not straightforward, especially if you come from a traditional parenting background, as I did, but it is possible with hard work.
7. Focus on self-control
When we are confident, capable, and internally attractive in kindness, we purposefully help others, and our self-respect and self-esteem increase. Support your child with guidance as they manage their hardships. It’s easy to swoop in and solve their problems but this hugely decreases their self-esteem. The best we can do is love them and be available to them when they need us.
8. Focus on self-respect
I believe that all forms of human interaction should be viewed with respect in mind. This helps us to keep both sides of a relationship, and the balance of power, in check. Focusing on respect will also help us to keep the long game of parenting in mind and ensure that we work towards raising children who have self-respect, respect for others and their culture, respect for other creatures, respect for material objects and respect for everything else in-between.
In successful relationships, there is often a balance of power. When one child is older or strong than the other, you need to ensure that you support the younger or weaker child. On the day that our older son ran into the bedroom fearful of his younger brother hurting him, I knew there was an increased balance of power in their relationship and that I could step back more and let them sort out their confrontations.
This doesn’t mean that we haven’t intervened when they were physical with each other, it just means that this one aspect of their relationship, the balance of power, was more in line. When we chatted about power in relationships, the children found it difficult to appreciate that the cat and our housekeeper are lower down on the list than them and are more susceptible to being treated poorly. The individuals that are further down the list, often the voiceless and more vulnerable, need us to be kinder and more compassionate in their care.
Keep the balance of power in check and remove double standards. Live by the words, “In our family, we are all kind and respectful. We listen and help each other.” Have high conduct expectations of everyone in the family.
9. Focus on self-compassion
We are all flawed and make mistakes as we learn, especially in our parenting. Be quick to apologise, give a hug and listen. When kids see self-compassion as a priority, they are less self-critical and increasingly extend compassion to us too. The higher we regard someone, the further we will go for their good.
10. Ask for help
Increasing your kid’s self-esteem is closer than you think. Being different in our parenting is hard. Visit me on social media or my website at www.crashtestmummy.net or email me at email@example.com for support.
For all references to specific points of view and research, please visit my website, download my book, Crash Test Mummy, and refer to the Appendix section.