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There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ self-esteem—so pour on the unconditional love, mama

What is self-esteem? It's the way we regard our self.


So high self-esteem means we see ourselves as good and capable, that we are secure in our value. Low self-esteem means we see ourselves as not good enough, that we are insecure about our own value.

All of us have intrinsic value as human beings, not because of what we accomplish, but merely because of who we are.

But who are we? Who we are can only be perceived by what we do, how we interact with our environment. And all humans find themselves tested by their environments, all of us have tasks to master throughout our lives, growth that is demanded of us, practice and training and hurdles and tests. That is what shapes who we are, what brings our selves into expression.

Every parent wants their children to love themselves, to be confident, happy people. But some parents worry that children can have self-esteem that is too high.

There is no such thing. We cannot see ourselves as too good, too capable, too valuable.

The worry these parents are expressing is that their child might have an overinflated view of his own abilities, or a conviction that he's more important than other people. But that's not self-esteem.

That's grandiosity, and it derives from insecurity. If you've heard that kids with high self-esteem act entitled, superior, narcissistic, or full of themselves, that's just not true. Any psychological measure of these traits is not measuring self-esteem, but grandiosity, which is the opposite of self esteem.

Low self-esteem can sometimes express itself in self-deprecating behavior, but more often expresses itself as arrogance, a need to believe that we are better than others.

This is a defense against the deep fear that we aren't good enough, so we must constantly measure ourselves against others and win. By contrast, people with high self-esteem are secure enough in their sense of value that they don't need to compare themselves to others or inflate their abilities: they are more than enough, just exactly as they are.

So how can you help your child develop high self-esteem? There are two components—the sense that you are good, and the sense that you are capable.

I'm using good in the sense that the child feels that she is of value, regardless of what she does, and regardless of whether she succeeds or fails. I'm using capable in the sense that the child feels capable of meeting his needs and achieving his own aspirations.

Let's dig more deeply into this.

Step 1: You are good

The core of self-esteem is "stable internal happiness," a phrase that was coined by Martha Heineman Pieper, the author of Smartlove. Stable internal happiness is the secure sense that one is good and capable and that the world is a good place, despite the inevitable wins and losses that life will present.

While some people have a natural tendency to better moods and more optimism than others, stable internal happiness can be fostered in any child with unconditional love. Just telling children we love them is not sufficient to develop healthy self-esteem. The child must feel that she's loved unconditionally.

What does that kind of parenting look like?

Parenting that communicates that this child is appreciated and adored, exactly as she is. She knows that she inspires your love just by being herself. She doesn't have to prove herself, work a bit harder, be a bit better behaved. It doesn't matter if she wins or loses, succeeds or fails.

Parenting that is responsive to this unique child's needs and emotions. Sound familiar? This is the same kind of parenting that fosters secure attachment, which is an overlapping concept that raises a child who feels worthy and safe. These parents stay connected even while the child becomes increasingly independent. They accept and affirm all of who the child is, including those messy, challenging, negative human feelings.

All parents encounter times when staying positive in the face of a tantrumming toddler, recalcitrant ten-year-old, or rude teenager can seem almost impossible, and we’re tempted to withdraw into anger. But giving a child the cold shoulder doesn’t teach her anything positive about how to build a relationship. Worse, it teaches her that your love is conditional on her acting a certain way. As always, when kids are at their least lovable is when they need our love the most.

Parenting that stays connected to the child while guiding him. Punishment always undermines self-esteem. Sure, kids need limits. No, he can't pee on the rug, run in the street, run around in the restaurant, call his mother a poopyface, hit his brother.

But setting those limits with empathy —"You're mad! And I won't let you hit."—helps kids learn to manage their emotions and therefore their behavior. That helps them see themselves as good and capable. Punishment, by comparison, does not help kids learn to manage their emotions, it just worsens the tangle of angry feelings they already can't control and makes them feel like bad people who can't even manage themselves, much less the world.

Parenting that gives lots of unconditional positive encouragement. Affirmation, encouragement, and acknowledgment are essential for children to feel seen, heard, respected, appreciated, and valued—all part of developing healthy self esteem.

This does not mean praising a child for traits or abilities she doesn't have, such as perfection, because she knows she's not perfect: praise for specific traits, as opposed to specific behavior, seems to undermine self esteem.

So, for instance, telling a child he's smart pressures him to always be smart, which is impossible (why doesn't he know what chartreuse is?), so it makes him insecure. By contrast, acknowledging that a child has worked hard and made progress toward his goal reinforces his sense that he is capable.

Kids who are lucky enough to experience unconditional love and acceptance develop stable internal happiness early, by 10 or 12.

Setbacks from the outside world—lost ball games, a flubbed test, even a family move that leaves friends behind—throw them for much briefer times than other kids, and they return quickly to their normal happy state. But that’s only true for a handful of lucky people. Many of us don’t reach this state until our twenties, others work our whole lives to get there. Your child, who is lucky enough to have a parent who thinks about these issues, probably already has a good start, regardless of his innate disposition.

The reason it matters to unconditionally love our kids and appreciate who they are is that it helps them to accept and appreciate themselves. In addition to conferring happiness and the ability to love others, that gives children the resilience to pursue their goals and meet their needs, which confers more happiness (and more self esteem). Which brings us to:

Step 2: You are capable

As a child grows, he needs to experience himself as capable of meeting his needs and successfully pursuing his goals. Self-esteem begins with unconditional love, which of course has nothing to do with accomplishment. It helps the child develop the stable internal happiness that will help him meet his needs and accomplish his goals.

Secondary self-esteem comes from the pride of knowing, deep inside, that we can take care of ourselves and meet our needs—that we have what it takes to bring our dreams into reality.

Self-esteem starts with feeling loved, because only kids who feel completely loved are able to tackle and master hard things. And self-esteem does require the person to feel they are capable of taking care of themselves and achieve their desires. And that, of course, means tackling things that are hard. Which means, as parents, encouraging our children to do some hard things.

But—and this is essential—this is about the child pursuing his own goals. ("Dad really supports me to work hard at my soccer because he knows it's important to me.") It isn't about our making the child work hard at goals that we've set. That shades into conditional love. ("Dad loves me more if I score a goal.")

So this doesn't mean pushing your child inappropriately, which we might call Tiger Mothering. It certainly doesn't mean rescuing or doing it for them, which we might call Helicoptering. It means paying attention, and giving your child targeted support to develop his own competence and his own feeling of being capable and powerful.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Toxic masculinity is having a cultural moment. Or rather, the idea that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic is having one.

For parents who are trying to raise kind boys who will grow into compassionate men, the American Psychological Association's recent assertion that "traditional masculinity ideology" is bad for boys' well-being is concerning because our kids are exposed to that ideology every day when they walk out of then house or turn on the TV or the iPad.

That's why a new viral ad campaign from Gillette is so inspiring—it proves society already recognizes the problems the APA pointed out, and change is possible.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) youtu.be

Gillette's new ad campaign references the "Me Too" movement as a narrator explains that "something finally changed, and there will be no going back."

If may seem like something as commercial as a marketing campaign for toiletries can't make a difference in changing the way society pressures influence kids, but it's been more than a decade since Dove first launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, and while the campaign isn't without criticism, it was successful in elevating some of the body-image pressure on girls but ushering in an era of body-positive, inclusive marketing.

Dove's campaign captured a mainstream audience at a time when the APA's "Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women" were warning psychologists about how "unrealistic media images of girls and women" were negatively impacting the self-esteem of the next generation.

Similarly, the Gillette campaign addresses some of the issues the APA raises in its newly released "Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men."

According to the APA, "Traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males' psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health."

The report's authors define that ideology as "a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence."

The APA worries that society is rewarding men who adhere to "sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men's ability to function adaptively."

That basically sounds like the recipe for Me Too, which is of course its own cultural movement.

Savvy marketers at Gillette may be trying to harness the power of that movement, but that's not entirely a bad thing. On its website, Gillette states that it created the campaign (called "The Best a Man Can Be," a play on the old Gillette tagline "The Best a Man Can Get") because it "acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."

Gillette's not wrong. We know that advertising has a huge impact on our kids. The average kid in America sees anywhere from 13,000 to 30,000 commercials on TV each year, according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, and that's not even counting YouTube ads, the posters at the bus stop and everything else.

That's why Gillette's take makes sense from a marketing perspective and a social one. "As a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man," the company states.

What does that mean?

It means taking a stance against homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment and that harmful, catch-all-phrase that gives too many young men a pass to engage in behavior that hurts others and themselves: "Boys will be boys."

Gillette states that "by holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come."

Of course, it's not enough for razor marketers to do this. Boys need support from parents, teachers, coaches and peers to be resilient to the pressures of toxic masculinity.

When this happens, when boys are taught that strength doesn't mean overpowering others and that they can be successful while still being compassionate, the APA says we will "reduce the high rates of problems boys and men face and act out in their lives such as aggression, violence, substance abuse, and suicide."

This is a conversation worth having and 2019 is the year to do it.

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Teaching a young child good behavior seems like it should be easy and intuitive when, in reality, it can be a major challenge. When put to the test, it's not as easy as you might think to dole out effective discipline, especially if you have a strong-willed child.

As young children develop independence and learn more about themselves in relation to others and their environment, they can easily grow frustrated when they don't always know how to communicate their feelings or how to think and act rationally.

It's crucial that parents recognize these limitations and also set up rules to protect your child and those they encounter. These rules, including a parent's or caregiver's follow-up actions, allow your child to learn and develop a better understanding of what is (and what is not) appropriate behavior.

Here are a few key ways to correct negative behavior in an efficient way:

1. Use positive reinforcement.

Whenever possible, look to deliver specific and positive praise when a child engages in good behavior or if you catch them in an act of kindness. Always focus on the positive things they are doing so that they are more apt to recreate those behaviors. This will help them start to learn the difference between good and poor behavior.

2. Be simple and direct.

Though this seems like a no-brainer, focus your child using constructive feedback versus what not to do or where they went wrong. Give reasons and explanations for rules, as best as you can for their age group.

For example, if you're teaching them to be gentle with your pet, demonstrate the correct motions and tell your child, "We're gentle when we pet the cat like this so that we don't hurt them," versus, "Don't pull on her tail!"

3. Re-think the "time out."

Many classrooms are starting to have cozy nooks where children are encouraged to have alone time when they may feel out of control. In lieu of punishment, sending a child to a "feel-good" area removes them from a situation that's causing distress. This provides much-needed comfort and allows for the problem-solving process to start on its own.

4. Use 'no' sparingly.

When a word is repeated over and over, it begins to lose meaning. There are better ways to discipline your child than saying "no." Think about replaying the message in a different way to increase the chances of your child taking note. Rather than shouting, "No, stop that!" when your toddler is flinging food at dinnertime, it's more productive to use encouraging words that prompt better behavior, such as, "Food is for eating, what are we supposed to do when we're sitting at the dinner table?" This encourages them to consider their behavior.

The above methods help create teachable moments by providing opportunities for development while making sure the child feels safe and cared for. It is important to mirror these discipline techniques at home and communicate often with your child care providers so that you're always on the same page.

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To the mamas awake in the middle of the night,

If you are one of the many moms with a little darling who doesn't sleep through the night, I feel your pain. I really do.

Having been blessed with two wonderful sleepers (aka my first and second babies), my third baby has been a shock to my system. He hasn't slept through the night since he was born and he's now 16 months. I do everything "right." I put him down sleepy but awake so he can settle himself to sleep. I keep the room dark and quiet.

But one simple fact remains: When my son wakes up in the night, he wants me. And he'll scream the house down if he doesn't get me.

Last night my 1-year-old woke at 3:30 am. He was stirring a bit at first, then started to really let it rip, so I got him up out of his crib and brought him into bed with me. We cuddled for a while. Then suddenly, he wanted to get off the bed and I said no. Then he started to scream and throw himself around on the bed before eventually being sick everywhere.

It was now 4:30 am. I dutifully changed the sheets, changed my son, changed myself, and then we climbed back into bed, the smell of vomit still lingering.

I tried to put him back in his crib around 5 am but he woke right up. I brought him back into bed with me, but quickly realized this wasn't what he wanted either. He was thrashing around again, trying to figure out a way off of the bed.

Finally, close to 6 am he decided he wanted to go to sleep. After about 10 minutes of watching him sleep, I felt brave enough to try to put him back in his room. I gently lifted him up, placed him in his crib and quietly crept back into my bed.

This left me with just enough time to fall back into a deep sleep, which meant I felt exhausted when my alarm went off just after 7 am.

Sadly, last night wasn't a one-off. This is a fairly frequent occurrence for me (although dealing with vomit is luckily quite rare!). Which means that when I say I understand what it's like to have a baby who doesn't sleep, I really mean it.

So here's what I want you to know, mama.

If you are awake in the night because your baby needs you then you are not alone. Despite what you might read, it's common for babies to wake up through the night. So if you're sitting in bed feeling like you're the only mother in the world awake, trust me, you're far from it.

There are mamas like us all over the world. Sitting there in the dark. Cuddling babies or soothing them to sleep again. Some, like me, might be changing sheets or abandoning any hope of getting sleep that night at all. Others might be up and down like a yo-yo every few hours. The rest might just be up once and then will be able to go back to sleep.

There will, however, also be mamas who are sound asleep. Mamas who have older children who no longer wake in the night. And they would want you to know that it will be okay. It won't be forever. One day, you'll realize that your baby no longer needs or wants you in the night.

And while you'll be so glad for your sleep you'll probably also be a little sad that there are no more night time cuddles.

It's hard to cope with a baby who doesn't sleep well at night. Really hard sometimes. You may feel like you can't deal with it anymore or you may be wishing that this phase would just stop already so you can get some rest.

Exhaustion often means that you struggle to get through the day. It can mean that you find it hard to drag yourself out of bed. Or if you're anything like me, you might be irritable and snap at the people you love. Or maybe it means relying on caffeine, sugar and Netflix to get you and your kiddos through the day.

But here's the amazing thing about mothers—no matter what has gone down during the night, we get up as usual. We go about our day just like everyone else. We care for and love our children, without giving them a hard time for disrupting our sleep. We don't moan, we don't complain. We just get on with it.

And when night comes, we go to bed knowing that there's every chance we'll be awake in the middle of the night again...

We get up without fail when our babies need us and we do what we need to do for them. Because we are the nighttime warriors. We are mamas.

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No one decides to be a stay-at-home mom for the paycheck—but if we were to earn one, it would put us in league with some CEOs. Although it doesn't do much for the bank account, a survey that calculated what the average salary would be for a stay-at-home mom is mighty validating. (Remember this next time anyone asks what you do all day.)

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