We hear so much about self-esteem these days -- but what does the word self-esteem really mean?
If you look up the word "esteem" in older dictionaries, the definition usually reads, "to highly regard or treasure something or someone" and to hold them up as worthy of honor. If we teach children to have a lot of self-esteem, they will highly regard, treasure and focus on themselves and may become an obnoxious person ... reminding others of all their accomplishments, good traits, intelligence, etc. Why not teach them to regard others highly?
Today's dictionary says the word "esteem" means to "treasure, respect, honor and/or revere." Whether you take the old definition or the new, our children are still getting the same message. They are hearing how important it is to honor themselves, favor themselves and boast of their talents and abilities. This teaches our children they don't have to earn respect ... they automatically deserve it! Perhaps another hyphenated word should replace the preaching of self-esteem.
The word "self-worth" is a perfectly good word and means something entirely different than self-esteem. Self worth is something we all need to cultivate -- it helps us avoid being pitiful people that put ourselves down all the time, feel sorry for ourselves, make excuses for our failures and expect special favors. Self-worth helps us acknowledge that everyone, including all ages, stages, nationalities, abilities, intelligence and more has worth in God's eyes -- because He created us. We are gifted in different ways, and everyone has something to share with the world.
It doesn't have to be a star talent - it can simply be a pleasant smile of encouragement. For instance, next time you eat out, compliment your hostess or server on what they do well. Observe the clean-up crew working hard to wipe tables, clean up spills and prepare a used table for the next guests who are waiting. Give them a thumbs up and a smile or a "good job" comment. Your children are listening, and it will be a good lesson for them. You are showing, by example, that everyone has self-worth and is important, if it's sweeping floors, greeting shoppers with a smile, cleaning dirty windows or running a small business. Every job is truly as important as any other job, and if they are left undone, we notice right away.
On the other hand, teaching self-esteem can actually produce in them the desire for special attention, honor, favoritism and more. It can produce an inward focus instead of an outward focus, and children who are constantly the center of attention often become obnoxious. We've all seen children in the store with parents or grandparents, and it's obvious who's in control. They don't just ask for something, they demand it! If the parents don't comply, they pitch fits, strike bargains, make deals and sometimes physically abuse a parent with a slap or kick in order to get what they want.
Where did the line go? You know, the one we as children were taught not to cross with the adults in our lives? Sadly, the line has often been ignored, smudged, or totally erased by many parents. In a desire to be their child's best friend, parents too often pacify or placate the children. Who wins, in the long run? Neither parent nor child. There is simply an ongoing dance through life placating the child's desire to be in control.
Why don't we try a more healthy approach to help children learn confidence, leadership skills and even how to serve others, which is a good thing. Instead of self-esteem, we choose to teach our children self-worth. Every person - rich or poor, sick or healthy, famous or unknown, has intrinsic value or worth simply because they are a human being and part of our society. Every individual has thoughts, needs, desires, hopes and dreams. They want to feel included, helpful and appreciated.
Let's cultivate self-worth in our children instead of preaching self-esteem. Those who are trying to help children develop their talents and abilities and to show kindness to others are actually teaching self-worth. They just haven't heard the word used enough to realize it. Let's take it to heart and remember this: We parents and grandparents, (along with and our children and grandchildren) have at least one ability or gift we can share with the world. This gives us a healthy view of self, or reminds us we have self-worth. What is your gift? More on that later!