Thursday, September 21, 2006

Self Esteem

The theme at Spencer's preschool this week is "I like me!" Which is great. Hey, I could use a little help on that front myself.

Every Monday I join Spence in the classroom from 12:45 to 1:30. We have "child directed" play time (which is the nice way they have of telling you that you are not allowed to force little Jimmy or Susie into playing with the blocks because they are less messy than the PlayDoh. Don't judge me; you've done it, too.) Anyway, that is all well and good except I stay at home full time and that means that generally he wants little or nothing to do with me at school. And I am okay with that. But the time together is a rule. So we hang out and I do my best to stay out of his way and not annoy him.

Then we have circle time, where we have a story, sing a song, or play a game.

Then it is my favorite time: the mommies leave the classroom and go to their own classroom. (Lest you think this is not a daddy friendly place, daddies are welcome. It just happens that this class is mommies, and occasionally a daddy will pop in.)

So Monday we talked about self esteem. And several people made a very valid point; that we could actually be damaging our kids by praising them too much. An example given was, "That is the best giraffe I have ever seen!" in response to a 3 year old's drawing. Of course it is NOT the best giraffe you've ever seen. You wouldn't have known it was a giraffe if your kid hadn't told you, right?

And I heard that example and immediately flashed back to half an hour earlier in the classroom with the kids, where my son (who is a genius, have I mentioned that?) drew himself in a "Book About Me." And I said, and I believe this is a direct quote, "That is the BEST person you have ever drawn!" Which is not the same as saying it's the best drawing of a person I've ever seen, but it's close.

So here is my disclaimer: I am not trying to artifically inflate my son's opinion of himself or his artistic talents, nor am I exaggerating in the statement I made. Why? Because it was the first thing he has ever drawn that actually resembled a human being. Ever. Usually he scribbles some squiggles and runs off to build with blocks or play with his train set. He generally won't even attempt to draw anything anymore, because he is always disappointed with the results. So I made a big deal out of it in order to encourage him to keep drawing. Because he might not be Picasso, but drawing can be fun. Artistic expression is a stress reliever for me. I want him to know the fun of making messes, of having a vision in his mind, doing the project, and deciding it is okay even if it doesn't quite match the vision in his head.

But I am still wondering if one of those moms heard me say that and if that is why she said what she said.

Can we get a class on parental self esteem and paranoia reversal?

I'm just sayin'.


  1. Can you give 'em too many hugs? Too many kisses? Say "I love you" too much? I don't think so.

    You can NEVER praise a kid too much!

  2. I agree. Spencer is doing great.

  3. Christine11:32 PM

    I was big into praise but this article made rethink it. "5 Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job" at

    Of course I love his "Truth About Homework" article too ;)

  4. Bottom line, here, is that your kid drew, for the first time, something that is recognizable as a human being. You congratulated him.

    I know if I have done something for a long period of time and finally get it right, or even close to right, hearing a good job is appreciated. Why would a child be any different?

    (Oh, and according to the advice that article gives, I am raising 2 very uncertain children who will always depend on other people's reaction to judge their own success.)

  5. Well, Jennifer, if you ever find a class on paranoia reversal, definitely sign me up.

    You know what I think about Alfie Kohn? The same thing I think about almost every other expert I've ever heard (or read): those are great ideas, but there is no one size fits all in parenting. To the parents who feel that he's telling them something they always needed to hear -- great!!! Use what he's got and go with it. To the parents who find his advice leaves them cold -- great!!! Follow your heart.

    And actually, getting up on my soapbox for a minute, I think that truly following your heart is your number one responsibility as a parent. You're the only one who really knows your child. Why would you let anyone else make you think they know more than you do? You're the one who knows which advice fits and which needs to be ignored. So stand up tall, dammit, and parent those kids the best that you can. And anyone who tries to get in your way had just better knock it off fast.

    That's my philosophy and I'm sticking to it.

    And by the way, that is a great drawing.

  6. "And by the way, that is a great drawing."
    Great? It's about better than i could do, and at 46 next week i've certainly had more practise than Spencer!
    Oh, and for my money, advice ~ on parenting, or anything else ~ is just that; and you can take it or leave it. Without feeling guilty either way.

  7. Just for the record...

    I had no idea that you said that to Spencer.

    And I hope you know that I would NEVER say anything like that simply to hurt someone's feelings. That's not me.

    That day during discussion, I was referring to my particular situation. About a year ago, I noticed that sometimes Annika would sit at the table, scribble something out quickly, and then bait me to praise her and guess what it was she drew. At other times, she'd pour her heart out over pictures that did truly amaze me.
    Over time, I realized that during both her "scribble" sessions and effort-filled endeavors, I would ALWAYS praise her and tell her that what she drew was "perfect," and it soon became a game for her. She would draw a squiggly line, smile up at me playfully, and ask sweetly "if it was perfect." I realized that this was a game to see how little she could do to elicit praise. So I stopped playing.

    Now, when my daughter does put a lot of effort into her creations, I believe that a compliment is in order (I've even devoted entries on my blog on her artistic abilities).

    I believe that compliments become much more meaningful when the person making them means it and truly believes it.

    The bottom line is that YOU are the best judge of what your child needs, and no one style of parenting or praise will fit an entire PAIIR class of mommies.


    By the way, I like your blog!