For several years now, critics of our educational system and parenting culture have been saying that at the same time the academic performance and morality of American youth plummet, these same children and adolescents carry an outsized opinion of themselves. The shorthand goes that they have too much self esteem. However, if you understand the definition and source of true self esteem, you’ll see that our kids are sorely lacking in the stuff.
First, let’s fix on a good definition. Authentic self esteem is based on the self respect that emanates from external reality. It does not come from internal fantasies fed by well intentioned parents showering their kids with unearned praise. Self-esteem and self-respect may appear to be synonyms, but as child psychiatrist Jack Westman points out in our new book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Child & Adolescent Psychology, they are not. A child’s self-esteem, Dr. Westman explains, can be low or high based on a fantasy he holds about himself, whereas self-respect is based on reality. You can have high self-esteem, and still be a selfish, inconsiderate person.
Kids who have been “spoiled,” whose parents consistently tell them that they are smarter, more creative, athletically gifted, and all around superior to others, can have high self-esteem. But this form of self esteem crashes when they are frustrated or don’t get the sort of approval they have come to expect.
In contrast, self-respect is having a good evaluation or judgment of yourself and having that view validated by realistic accomplishments and experiences with other people. Self-respect gives rise to authentic high self-esteem. This internal feeling is based on external reality.
Because these two words have been conflated in general use, we’ll refer to self respect (as we’ve defined it here) as self esteem but please understand that we are referring to the authentic meaning of this over-used, misunderstood term.
Why Does Self Esteem Matter?
Authentic self-esteem in children is important for a child’s emotional, social, and-now the research makes clear-also for her intellectual development. Sources of self-esteem include the following:
- A child’s innate temperament helps shape her self-esteem. Easy, friendly temperament children tend to develop more self-esteem than children with difficult, inhibited temperaments.
- When parents are willing to discuss household rules and discipline with them, their children’s self-esteem rises. A child then internalizes the message that she is important enough for her opinions to be heard.
- Parents’ consistent warmth, affection, and involvement with their children builds self-esteem. A hug sends the simple message: “You are important to me.”
- Self-esteem also comes from the peer comparisons a child makes and approval or rejection she experiences from peers.
- Self-esteem comes from a child’s emerging “belief system” which can be seen as an accumulation of all of the preceding.
The Problem for Tweens
It’s probably not a surprise to hear that the children most vulnerable to low self esteem are 9 to 12 year olds. When measured by psychological researchers, self-esteem is highest in preschool and lowest at the start of junior high school. In a study of 2,000 low- to middle-income children living in the greater Detroit area, 25 percent of this age group had negative self-esteem. Their negative views of themselves showed up on all three scales measured: academic competence, social acceptance, and global self-worth. On each scale, 5 to 10 percent more girls than boys displayed negative self-esteem.
Why is it so tough to be a tween? First they’re undermined by vast hormone-driven body and mind changes. They literally don’t feel like themselves anymore. To add to their emotional challenges, the transition from elementary to high school is when children fall from a secure social position to a new unfamiliar one, and find themselves at the “bottom of the pecking order.” It’s also the age when many are pulling away from their parents, not confiding all their thoughts and feelings, and not allowing as many kisses and hugs as they used to. Still, by understanding the source of true self esteem, and then helping guide their tweens to adopt attitudes and engage in activities that will give them cause to feel good about themselves, parents can help them navigate this difficult transition.
How to Give Praise
Authentic self-esteem in children does not come from adults offering unearned rewards or praise-simple, right? Apparently not, because in one national survey 85 percent of parents said they think it’s important to tell their kids-early and often-how smart they are.
The problem is this approach backfires. Kids as young as seven know when they’re hearing an untruth about themselves. For instance, if an adult tells a child how fabulously he just did at bat after he struck out, he’ll sense the adult’s false praise.
So what is effective praise? What works with children is the same as with adults. Praise works when it is:
- Specific to an accomplishment
A child can get addicted to false praise. The reward system of the brain will anticipate it and begin sending out dopamine when praise is received. Not receiving praise then becomes a problem for the child. The child who depends on unearned praise will not take risks and will care only about getting good grades. He is more likely to cheat on tests. In other words learning loses its intrinsic value; it’s all about performance and how good he looks to those whose praise he covets.
Meanwhile, the ability to sustain a task and accept a certain amount of frustration and failure is essential to learning and creating in school and in life. When a child is too afraid of failure and too dependent on false praise, she is at greater risk for failure. Praise should be given for sustained effort and rewards should come only with success, not a near miss. From these experiences a child will develop authentic self-esteem and a solid core of emotional resiliency-the all important ability to bounce back from failure or adversity.
Now that your child is a preteen, staying home alone is an option. Perhaps, you’ve already left them alone for a few minutes while running an errand or picking up a sibling. Older tweens often enjoy the independence, but may not know how to take care of themselves in an emergency. TweenParent.com has come up with some tips and ideas that we think will help you prepare your preteen to stay home on their own.
Things to Consider Before Leaving Your Tween Home Alone
- Does your preteen want to stay home alone or will they be frightened?
- Does your tween show reasonable behavior when choosing independent activities?
- Is your tween reliable and responsible while doing daily activities and chores around the house?
- Is your preteen self-sufficient? (Do they recognize when they are hungry and can they prepare small meals and snacks by themselves?)
- Does your tween follow rules and instructions?
- Do you trust your preteen not to panic in unexpected situations?
- Is your tween comfortable using the telephone?
- Does your preteen know how to handle emergency situations?
- Has your preteen ever played with matches, fire or other dangerous objects?
- Does your tween have a medical condition that would make them vulnerable if left home alone?
Teaching Your Preteen How to Handle an Emergency
- Give your tween a lesson in first-aid 101.
- Show your preteen how to call 911.
- Teach your tween what to do in case of a fire. Remember that fire department rules for apartments are different than houses. If you live in an apartment check the fire department’s recommendations for your building.
- Find a reliable neighbor that your tween can go to and/or call in the case of an emergency.
- Establish a meeting area outside your home in case your child needs to leave in the event of an emergency.
Lists For Your Tween
- Important Contact Information – Include your telephone numbers and a neighbor’s number. A grown up should always be available for your preteen.
- Emergency Numbers – All the basics; 911 for fire and first aid, the poison control center, and your doctors and dentist’s information.
- Home Address and Phone Number – In an emergency, your tween may be too flustered to remember even basic information.
- A Chart of First-Aid Procedures – Easy access to this information will help your child make good choices.
Our Recommendations For House Rules While Home Alone
- Preteens should not tell anyone that they are home alone. However, if your tween gets caught in an awkward conversation, it’s important for them to know that it is okay to fib to strangers about being home alone.
- Tweens should not answer the door while home alone.
- Consider not allowing any friends in the house without your permission. Keep in mind that you don’t want to get the reputation of having the house without grown up supervision.
- Make rules about answering the phone. For example, you may want your preteen to pick up the phone only if they recognize your voice on the answering machine or see your number on caller ID.
- Structure your tween’s time. Write a list of things you expect to get done while you are away — homework, chores, make a snack.
- Decide what kitchen appliances your kids are allowed to use. Most people feel comfortable letting their preteens use the microwave and toaster, but not the stove.
- Establish clear guidelines about using the computer, TV, or playing video games while you are away.
- Decide if your preteen needs to have permission to go outside.
Home Alone Tips
- Have easy to make snacks and food readily available for your preteen.
- Show your tween where the first aid kit, flashlights and batteries are kept.
- Remember to lock the door on your way out.
- Warn your preteen never to go into their home if something looks out of place. A broken window, open door, forced lock or ripped screen could be a clue to a robbery.
Transitioning Your Kids
- Go out for only five to ten minutes the first time you leave your tween alone.
- Structure your preteen’s time. They may feel more comfortable if they have something to do.
- Talk to your tween about how they feel about being left alone. If they have concerns, this is your cue that they are not ready.
- If there is stress in your household, wait until things are “back to normal” before leaving your preteen alone.
Getting your preteen acquainted with the kitchen can be beneficial in so many ways. Aside from giving you a break from being responsible for every meal, learning to cook builds confidence, vocabulary, and tastes, as well as reinforcing basic math skills. You may have already been baking and cooking together since your preteen was small, but even if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start. So often we let our busy lives interfere with our willingness to prepare a meal. By encouraging your child’s interest in cooking, you are empowering them with important life skills.
Browse through some cookbooks together
Giving your preteen the freedom to pick out a recipe builds their excitement. Plus, it gives them ownership throughout the process. Finding a kid-friendly cookbook is easy, the question is, which one? The recipes should be simple and straightforward, and should use uncomplicated ingredients. There should be pictures, lots of pictures, and vivid descriptions illustrating how to do certain tasks. Emeril, Rachel Ray, Williams-Sonoma, and Better Homes and Gardens have all released great cookbooks for kids. My favorite children’s cookbooks are fromMollie Katzen. She makes cooking fun, delicious, and healthy for both kids and adults.
It’s important to know what you and your tween are getting yourselves into. Explain to them the importance of reading an entire recipe before beginning the process. Make sure you have enough time, the proper equipment and ingredients. Show your tween how to decipher the recipes. Words like “simmer,” “broil,” and “dice” might be foreign to your child. If you come across terminology that you do not recognize, you can look it up in the food dictionary at Epicurious.com. When doubling recipes, ask your tween to show off their math skills by telling you the new amounts of ingredients needed. This will help boost their culinary confidence.
Going grocery shopping as a team
Once you know what you’re going to be making, pick up the ingredients you need at the grocery store. Study food prices, labels, and quantities with them. Have them practice shopping on a budget by using a calculator to add up the food prices as you go. Let them pick out a few things, outside of the recipe, that they might be interested in trying.
A kitchen Q & A session is important so that your preteen knows where things are, what to use, and how to use them. Turn it into a fun family trivia game, if you’d like. This is a good opportunity to find out what your child already does and does not know about the kitchen utensils, tools, and appliances. Don’t underestimate them – they probably know more than you might expect. Don’t overestimate them, either – they might know what something is, but have no idea what it’s for or how it’s used. Maybe you have something hiding in your utensil drawer that they’ve never seen before. Have you ever actually used your lemon reamer?
Safety in the kitchen
A talk about safety is mandatory. Try to keep at least one eye on your preteen, at least until they are comfortable around the knives and heat. You don’t want to scare them, but rather guide them about the proper way to hold and use a knife for chopping. Use your judgment about whether you think your child is mature enough to handle a sharp knife, otherwise stick with safer tasks such as measuring, stirring, and cracking eggs. Give your novice chopper something easy to practice with, such as a stalk of celery. Celery is a great practice food because it can lay flat on the cutting board and is easy to grip. Don’t worry about your preteen having perfect Food Network-esque knife skills, as long as they are comfortable. Some important safety tips to communicate to your child are:
- Long hair should be tied back.
- Sleeves should be rolled up past the wrists.
- Potholders should be clean and dry, and always easily accessible. (Wet potholders conduct heat.)
- Pot handles on the stove should be turned inward, to avoid being accidentally bumped.
- Hot pots or pans should stay on the stovetop to cool, before being transferred to a countertop or the sink.
- Kids should be tall enough to see inside the pot before attempting stovetop recipes. Never leave the stirring utensil in the pot. That’s what those adorable little spoon rests are for.
- Kitchen = electricity and water in the same general area. Proceed with caution, and be sure the two never mix.
- No metal in the microwave. That means no aluminum foil, forks, etc.
- If raw meat, fish, poultry or eggs have touched a cutting board or utensil, explain why you should not use it again to touch raw foods without washing it thoroughly with warm soapy water. Same goes for your hands.
- Above all, encourage a lot of communication in the kitchen. If a sharp knife, or a hot pan, is being moved from one location to another, speak up!
Let your preteen take charge. Having your preteen act as head chef allows them to take ownership over the process and eventually become independent enough to do it themselves. You can participate as sous chef and offer advice when necessary. Follow are some tips you can share with your preteen to get them started.
- Create a clean working space.
- Review your recipe.
- Preheat oven if necessary.
- Wash your hands with warm soapy water.
- Get all the utensils and ingredients set up on the counter.
- Rinse and dry all fruit and vegetables before you use them.
- Measure and chop ingredients so they are ready to cook.
- Clean up spills, load the dishwasher and soak pots as you go along.
- Have fun!
Enjoy your meal
After bonding with your preteen in the kitchen, enjoy the fruits of your labor together! Regardless of how the dish turned out, be sure to give your child lots of praise and positive reinforcement so they are confident about trying new things in the kitchen and new foods on their plates.
Is your preteen interested in babysitting? A responsibility and a privilege, babysitting requires preparation, while offering tweens the opportunity to learn patience, assertiveness and self-reliance. Most preteens start babysitting around 12 years old. Although, some states, like Maryland, actually prohibit anyone under the age of 13 from babysitting. Labor laws aside, how do you know that your preteen is prepared for the challenge?
Signs of Readiness
- They express an interest and take the initiative to prepare themselves for babysitting.
- They have demonstrated an interest in children.
- They have successfully cared for a pet.
- They have successfully spent time home alone.
- They have independently cared for younger family members.
- They have been first-aid trained, or participated in a babysitting preparation course. Check with your local schools, pediatrician, YMCA or red cross for course listings. CPR is usually offered separately, but should also be considered.
- They are familiar with childcare basics – changing and feeding an infant, Heimlich maneuver, and wound care.
- They are self-sufficient. (Meaning they can prepare meals and clean up after themselves.)
A first-time babysitting experience shouldn’t be daunting. It is important for your preteen to stay in their comfort zone and gain confidence through success. Before deciding on the first job, help your preteen figure out their comfort level. Do they feel confident changing diapers? Does your preteen know how to hold and bottle-feed an infant? Are they used to keeping a constant eye on a toddler? Watching a young elementary school child during playtime is a simple first job, usually only requiring snack preparation and some enthusiasm. An added benefit, school-age kids are less likely to be anxious about their parent’s departure.
Suggest that your preteen babysit for a family they are well acquainted with. This will insure both your comfort levels. Knowing the kids will help your preteen figure out how to entertain them and assert herself or himself when necessary. Although your kid may know the family well, it is still a good idea to encourage your tween to ask the parents all pertinent information, such as house rules and emergency numbers.
Let your preteen know that you’re available by phone. They’ll feel better knowing you are there in case any questions come up. A successful first job can result in the confidence to continue babysitting and acquire new, more marketable experience.
Getting More Jobs
Once your preteen feels comfortable babysitting children they know well, they may want to market themselves to other families. Together, make a list of acquaintances that you think may need a sitter. Suggest that your preteen make a flier to mail to these families. The flier should include qualifications such as types of babysitting experience, ages of kids they have taken care of, chores they have been responsible for, and any training they received. Your preteen can also include references from their earlier jobs. Next comes the interview. Before meeting the parents, talk to your tween about any schedule restrictions (such as late night or school night babysitting) and hourly rates. During the interview, your tween should take responsibility for asking about pay, emergency numbers, house rules, and suitable activities for the kids. Showing their potential employer that they are prepared highlights that your preteen is responsible and self-reliant. After speaking with the parents, your tween may want to come up with a plan of activities they think the kids might like. Even if they don’t end up doing any of them, being proactive instantly gives an air of authority.
Babysitting will require your tween to exhibit a certain amount of business etiquette, such as following up with phone calls and emails, punctuality and presenting themselves as professionals. The first babysitting jobs challenge preteens to navigate between professionalism with parents and playfulness with children while maintaining authority. Being in charge means keeping the kids safe and happy, but the art of babysitting comes when your preteen realizes that babysitting is about more than just keeping children safe for a few hours. Gaining the trust of parents requires the creation of an orderly and clean (ideally cleaner than when they left!) environment. Putting dishes in the dishwasher and helping the children pick up their toys are essential attributes of a great babysitter. Also, preteens should feel an obligation to work while they are getting paid. Texting, emailing, and making phone calls to friends will undermine your tween’s appearance of responsibility. Remind your preteen that checking on the children while they sleep is necessary and doing homework is a laudable activity to pass time until the parents return. When they do return, your tween should be ready with a report of the children’s behavior and activities.
A Great Babysitter is Hard to Find
Becoming a successful babysitter is a life skill. Along with gaining a sense of pride and self-confidence, babysitting has many practical implications. Invariably, it promotes a sense responsibility and work ethic. Often, tweens must choose between maintaining a work relationship by helping out on a Saturday night, or going to the movies with friends. Satisfied parents are references, resources and contacts, generally willing to promote a babysitter’s interests and freely give praise to other parents and potential employers. However, even an unsuccessful babysitting experience may lead to a positive outcome. After watching someone else’s kids, yours may appreciate you more!