I was recently processing with a child ways he can cope with negative peers. One of the solutions he generated was to ‘remind myself that I am special no matter what anybody says to me.’ Above all else, I am a professional, so despite what my book and blog would have you think, I generally praise this sort of positive self-talk in younger children.
This was not an opportunity to challenge this child’s belief for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, because of the age of the child, and to a lesser degree because it’s kind of true no matter how old you are. Because I could not see fit to impart more realism into this line of thinking, I found myself mulling over the finer points of where everything with self-esteem comes off the rails.
Poor follow through is the apparent answer. We start with a very simple statement – you are special no matter what. Something definitive and easy for children to understand, which is used to impart confidence and self-assurance. We are supposed to continue building upon this.
Instead, we lay a foundation and call it a house.
Children are able to use this mantra during their early childhood as they traverse the horrors of establishing interests, peer groups, friendships, and learning how to communicate with others. They use it to effectively cope with failure as they try and find their particular niches. As they develop a better sense of self and confidence, we should be slowly taking away their safety net of all encompassing specialness.
It starts with small and simple changes, like most anything done well. Instead of reminding the child that he or she is entirely special, point out what makes them special. Something like ‘Wow, you’re a great soccer player and have worked really hard to continue getting better.’ or ‘You are an awesome painter, that is one of the things that makes you special.’
Now the foundation has been laid and the frame is up, but it’s still not a house.
From here we can help children learn that even though they are quite good at some things, they generally will not be the best, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Not only that, but we get to coach them through failure, and how to learn or benefit from it. Without failure, there is no success.
As always, I am going to point out that everyone has something special about them, that’s never been my issue. The problem is when people assume that they are special in every way, making them somehow better or more deserving than others. Those, dear readers, are the snowflakes that I spend so much of my time disliking. Individually they are endlessly annoying, but mostly inconsequential. A generation of them can crush the life out of everything.