Experience Leads to Real Self-Esteem

We used to have this editorial cartoon up at work that depicted a teacher explaining to parents that their student would learn no real-world skills in her classroom, but they’d leave with excellent self-esteem. We would chuckle and roll our eyes, because we knew how true that was. The kids we dealt with on a near-daily basis were certain they were the most awesome person on the planet…with nothing to back up the claim. Half our fight was getting them to understand that, as awesome as they may be, they still had to be able to do basic academic functions correctly.

Over Thanksgiving, I saw something that provoked me to draft a tweet that I have still been unable to edit into what I really want to say. I don’t even remember what exactly triggered the draft, but somehow I had seen a caregiver stop a child from doing something harmless and useful because she said the child didn’t need to experience whatever it was. The child was clearly disappointed, and I was annoyed with the caregiver.

The tweet has waffled between drawing connections between childhood experiences and being responsible, self-sufficient adults and childhood experiences and suffering from stunted personal growth. I guess they really aren’t all that dissimilar, but I just haven’t been able to hit the right wording to say what I want.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the understanding that our own concept of self-worth, of what we’re capable of, came because the adults in our life let us try things out, let us have experiences that shaped us and taught us. Any sense of self we have came from those activities, so why are we so quick to keep our children from having those experiences? I know some would say that people have always stopped their children from doing things, have always kept them from facing the consequences of their actions, but it’s really more prevalent in people from both my generation, and the one coming up behind me (in my own observation). How did we suddenly decide it was okay to keep a child from really learning and tell them they were amazing for not knowing how to do so many things for themselves?

When you stop a child from experiencing, regardless of whether the experience is positive or negative, you rob them of the opportunity to learn, to develop the self-sufficiency, respect, and responsibility that will make their adult life much smoother and more civil. I’m not saying we should just shove kindergartners out the door and ignore them, but we should give them opportunities to learn how the world works and develop their plans for how they’re going to handle it.

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