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How to Raise Kids with Good Self-Esteem

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We want our kids to deal with loss or failure constructively — by evaluating why things turned out the way they did, asking themselves how they might do better next time, and ultimately bouncing back from the disappointment. At the same time, we want their suffering to be minimal. In striving for the latter, though, we may dilute their chance to learn resilience. "One of the main jobs of parents is building and protecting their children's self-esteem," says Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, Ph.D., who studies how success is achieved. Unfortunately, she says, many parents today believe a good way to do this is to ignore their kids' failures or blame them on someone else. "It used to be that after a Little League game parents might say, 'When you struck out, maybe you didn't have your eye on the ball.' Now they're more likely to say, 'The umpire robbed you' " when there are problems. But the child who absorbs that lesson never learns to accept responsibility or withstand adversity. "Real protection," says psychologist Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., in her parenting guide, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, "means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard."

You can help your child become a better risk manager — i.e., loser — by cultivating a proper outlook early, says Dweck. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she describes two basic worldviews. People with a "fixed" mindset regard their qualities — IQ, personality, even moral character — as unchanging, carved in stone. "A fixed mindset creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over," she says. People with a "growth" mindset, on the other hand, view their basic qualities as improvable through effort and experience.

Depending on the mindset they develop with our help, children have vastly different reactions to failure and losing. "Confronted by failure, fixed-mindset kids fall apart or become very defensive," Dweck says. "They'll either feel really bad about failure, or run away from it." Children who've been encouraged to have a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that they can try to do better. No, they're not happy about a failure or rejection. "But afterwards," Dweck says, "they think about what happened and what they can do to change the outcome next time."

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