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How to Raise Kids with Good Self-Esteem

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Don't sugarcoat Everyone fails; you might as well put that on the table sooner rather than later. There are bound to be flubbed lines in the school play, or a pratfall at the ballet recital. When my younger son, Charlie, got his first taste of Little League pitching, he gave up a bunch of runs, including a grand slam. As the opposing players raced around the bases to score, my mind raced for the best way to salve his ego when the inning was finally over. In the meantime, his coach trotted out to the mound — sometimes the loneliest place on earth — put his hand on Charlie's shoulder, and said something to him. Whatever it was, my son stood tall and continued throwing hard strikes. Later, I asked the coach what he'd said. "I told him, 'So you got tattooed. Join the crowd.' "

Says Dweck: "To deny that things didn't go well is to send a very dangerous message — that mistakes or losses are so terrible that we can't talk about them. The most successful people know how to confront their failures and deficiencies and take steps to remedy them. That's what you need to teach your child. Say something like, 'Well, you lost the election. When you run again, do you think you'll prepare differently? What might you do next time to get more votes?' "

Leave your own hang-ups at the door Sometimes, what we view as intolerable to our kids is really intolerable to us. Beth,* a Philadelphia mom, was crushed when her 12-year-old wasn't chosen for her middle school's highly regarded orchestra. "It was really the first time in her life she didn't get what she wanted. I was devastated, and ready to intervene with the school. But before I could, she made the best of the situation and quickly became the proudest, most gung ho member of her French club. There were nights when I'd watch her sleeping and actually think, Why aren't you devastated? What's wrong with you that you're coping with this so effectively? I realized that I needed to separate her disappointments from mine, that I was confusing my childhood with hers." When you notice that you're more upset about a setback than your child is, Dweck suggests, consider what the failure means to you, and how that's different from what it means to her. Then remind yourself that she'll learn more from this experience if it's not about you, but about her and her growth.

Lend your kid some calm Children throw temper tantrums when they lose (or for other reasons) because they're emotionally overwhelmed and unable to put their intense feelings into words. For 3- to 5-year-olds, that's normal; for 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds, it's more worrisome. As a parent, what do you do when your child, having been shut out of a prize at the talent show, morphs into the demon seed before your eyes? (That is, besides feel paranoid that every parent within earshot is judging you?)

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