One of my former directors used to have a cartoon taped to her monitor where a teacher was assuring parents that the curriculum would teach the child no real world skills, but would leave them with excellent self-esteem. What made the cartoon so tragically funny is that self-esteem and experience go hand in hand. If you aren’t allowed to make mistakes, if you don’t learn how to cope with or positively diffuse bad situations, then you can’t truly have good self-esteem.
In fact, certain mental illnesses have recently been linked to artificially inflated self-esteems. Because someone grew up being told every mistake they made was someone else’s fault, because they weren’t expected to accept responsibility for their own actions, they can’t cope with mistakes in a socially acceptable way, so they suffer from a mental illness.
Sheltering someone from the fact that the world is a mix of good and bad doesn’t help, either. I was working at a summer camp once, and the campers were creating a skit for the talent show. They wanted to show how to deal with mean people, so the first half of the skit showed people being mean, and the second half of the skit showed how to deal with each situation. The camp’s staff was horrified that the campers were showing all of that negativity and ruining the camp’s perfectly positive atmosphere, and they made them change the skit. The campers weren’t happy. I wasn’t happy.
There’s a difference between providing a positive atmosphere and pretending negativity doesn’t exist, and this camp failed to understand that, and in its efforts to provide a safe place for the campers to develop their self-esteem, it robbed them of an opportunity to reflect on what happens outside of camp.
Instead of focusing on inflating self-esteem, why not create a safe zone where children can learn to experiment, to feel comfortable making mistakes? Give them the means and the tools to handle failure and negativity. Those character-building moments lead to strong, successful adults with genuine self-esteem.