by Harvey Deutschendorf
Raising children with a healthy degree of self regard is critical. I was raised in a family where there was a steady diet of anger, shaming and put downs, coming from both my father and brother. I’ve since passed through many years of struggle to learn what it takes to have positive self regard. Since I never gained it from my family, I had to find a way to give it to myself. Let me share with you two incidents that reveal some of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way.
A Day in the Park
Several years ago I went to a local park with a friend, Jennifer, and her two grandsons. Josh was seven years old at the time and Warren was ten. Like two active, healthy boys of that age, they played together and fought frequently. As soon as we got to the park, Josh started crying, between sobs accusing Warren of some dastardly deed.
Jennifer said to Josh, “I know that you need to cry because you feel hurt, but if you don’t stop in five minutes, you’re going to have to go sit in the car.”
After a few more sobs, Josh said, “Okay.”
In a few more minutes, the brothers were happily playing again, the whole incident forgotten. I was astonished. Too often I had seen the following scene played out between adults and children.
- Child begins to cry.
- Adult threatens consequences if child doesn’t stop crying.
- The power struggle is now on, in full force.
- Child cries even louder.
- Adult raises the stakes and threatens further consequences
Whether or not consequences are administered, the child remains angry and tearful, believing that he or she suffered a bum deal. Eventually the child – having exhausted his or her energy and supply of tears – gets over the incident and moves on.
That is why I was so astonished that the incident that day ended so quickly, without both parties expending vast amounts of energy.
Jennifer had given Josh the same space that we give men in our I-groups (integration groups) when we tell them, “Your anger is welcome here.” Josh was told that his feelings were real, and he was entitled to express them. His feelings were not good or bad, they just were. Jennifer put no judgment on his feelings. She did not in any way indicate whether or not his crying spell was justified.
Josh learned that it was safe to express his feelings – to a point. Learning that he was entitled to his feelings, Josh was learning another thing – respect for the rights of others.
Josh saw that his actions affected other people: his grandmother and his brother. They had come to the park that day to have a good time. While Josh was entitled to his feelings, and at some point (5 minutes, in this case) his feelings and actions would interfere with the right of Jennifer and Warren to have a good time. Josh learned about boundaries, how his emotions and actions impacted others around him.
Bowling for Integrity
My nephew Brett and I enjoy bowling together. When he was younger, Brett accepted that he lacked the talent and coordination to compete with his adult uncle. As he grew older, his bowling scores grew higher. He began to imagine the day he would beat his “Harvey.”
He came close to beating me but still come up short. I could feel his frustration. I thought how easy it would be for me to throw a game, so he could have the satisfaction of beating me, but I could not do it.
I wondered if my own fragile ego stopped me, but I really did not have a problem with loosing to Brett.
There was something else.
Had I thrown the game, I would have been out of integrity with Brett and myself. Had I let him beat me, would he know that I wasn’t trying my best? If he did know, any victory over me would be tainted. He would always wonder if he really beat me or whether I let him win.
I trusted that eventually Brett would beat me fair and square, which he did. By doing so, he raised his level of self regard. He set a goal for himself and achieved it. His victory was not given to him by anyone and could not be taken away from him by anyone.
My part was giving him the opportunity and encouragement to keep on going until he was successful. How do I know if I did the right thing? I don’t. All I know is that I gave to him what I would have wanted from the loving, caring, supportive uncle I never had.
Creating Self Regard
In my book on emotional intelligence, The Other Kind of Smart, the chapter on self regard offers four techniques for increasing self regard:
1. Run – don’t walk – away from people who put you down or diminish you in any way. Find people who are supportive (keep trying; they are out there). The more you are able to achieve, the more comfortable you will feel in the company of supportive people, and the more you will be attracted to them.
2. Always challenge yourself. Set goals that are not easy, yet are achievable. Reach them, and then set further goals. Make this practice a lifetime habit.
3. Keep a book of accomplishments. At the end of every day or week, write down some things you have achieved that required some effort.
4. Make it a habit to support others. Encourage them to pursue their dreams and passions. If unable to do so, just keep quiet.
If you follow these simple steps, you will create more positive self regard in yourself and the young people in your life. If you are a father, you owe it to yourself and your children.
|Harvey Deutschendorf, an Emotional Intelligence Coach, is the author of The Other Kind of Smart: Simple ways to boost your emotional intelligence for greater personal effectiveness and success. His first book was Of Work and Men, How Men Can Become More Than Their Careers. Information: http://www.theotherkindofsmart.com.|