“Pretty soon, I’m going to be better than my teacher!” my six-year old declares as he practices guitar during his third month of lessons.
“I think I’m getting to be the best hand-stander in the world!” my five-year-old exclaims after she almost-but-not-quite stays upright on her hands for one-tenth of a second.
In the privacy of our own home, statements like these seem sweetly self-assured and humorously naive; in public, however, we sometimes wince at our children’s bold statements.
Our culture seems to be a confused mess when it comes to self-image. Have you noticed? We’re all bursting with pride, constantly comparing ourselves to those around us, measuring up our outfits, our waistline, our jobs, our children’s behavior and accomplishments… And yet, each of us wants to be seen as humble, debasing ourselves in front of others. “Oh, this meal? I guess it’s okay. But I’m not nearly as good a cook as…” or “Actually, I was disappointed in how it turned out. I thought it needed…”
Whether we honestly have low self-esteem and feel we never quite measure up or whether we don’t want to appear proud, our response is one that needs examining. I first realized this in college, when I had an acquaintance who exasperatedly begged me to simply accept a compliment graciously for once and move on. Never before had I realized that I instinctively deflected every compliment thrown my way, having grown up in a community in which that was seen as appropriate humility.
Now as an adult, I’m again struggling to find the balance between pride—which can be healthy or unhealthy—and humility—which is the same double-edged sword. I don’t want my children to feel that nothing they do is worthy of praise, but neither do I want them constantly going on about how amazing they are (whether true or not).
I’m still looking for a solution to this one. I’ve told my children that it’s fine to be proud of what they have accomplished, and they may gladly share with others factual information like the amount of time they spend practicing or the new skills they have learned, but they should let others draw their own conclusions about the merits of these accomplishments (whether they are “awesome,” “amazing,” “great,” or what-have-you); I also encourage my kids to not focus only on themselves, but also to notice the accomplishments of others and allow others to share their exciting news. I’m hoping that these guidelines help my kids to maintain their positive view of themselves without driving others nuts with constant self-talk; the jury is still out on results.
What’s your take?