This month I have been reading a great book by Dr. Kevin Leman called Have a New Kid by Friday. Although it sounds like a quick-fix, self-help book, it is really well written and has such sound beliefs behind his teaching. He is a clinical psychologist, married for almost 40 years, and with experience raising 5 kids. He is a believer in Jesus and uses Biblical principles, though he doesn’t declare chapter and verse. I have been confirmed by this book in what I teach moms with young children. I want to share some of the principles from this book over the next few months when I send your monthly bulletin to you. Of course Dr. Leman has much more to say and lots more examples than I will ever be able to cover in this short email.
For those of you who have been receiving First Steps bulletins for a while, some of these points will be review. Dr. Leman has put these ideas in such easy to remember form that I want to share them again.
Many child rearing books and speakers emphasize building your child’s self-esteem. This really is important. We want our children to grow in maturity and character so that they can be all God means for them to be. They must have a good foundation of self-worth. How to develop self-esteem will differ widely however. The three pillars of self-worth that Dr. Leman teaches are: Acceptance, Belonging, and Competence.
Now I’ve mentioned the beginnings of Acceptance and Belonging in some of the monthly bulletins. Our babies begin to absorb that they are accepted very early in life. As we bond with our baby, looking eye to eye, meeting his most basic needs, lovingly handling him, talking to him, reading and singing to him. All those things we do most naturally as we spend time with our infant. When we make feeding and bathing and dressing opportunities for showing our love, we teach our baby that he is accepted. Acceptance begins as we meet his needs. As he grows up, he learns that we accept and love him even when we disapprove of his behaviour. He learns unconditional love is based on acceptance.
Belonging builds on the foundation of acceptance. We let our baby know that he belongs to us. He is part of a family with mom and dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. When he sees our faces light up when we see him, he begins to know he belongs to us. Strangers don’t look at him the same way his family does. As he grows up, he learns that belonging has responsibilities attached to it. There are things we do for each other because we belong to each other. There are things we don’t do because we belong to this family. Everyone has a part to play in the family. That is belonging.
Now the third part of self-worth is Competence. I think this is the part that is most misunderstood by many child rearing teachers. Many teach that a child need to ”feel good” about himself. They seem to say, don’t ever cross his little will or make him wait for gratification, or tell him he did wrong, because that might make him feel bad about himself. But instead, we should teach our child the importance of competence to his “feeling good” about himself. We do this when we encourage him about what he does. Instead of praising him for being a “good boy”, we encourage him by saying, “well-done!” We focus on how good he feels when he does things the right way, the kind way, the thoughtful way, the excellent way. Focusing on what he does and how he does it takes some retraining of our own thinking. It is easier to say, “Good boy.” We have to think more to say, “Good job. I’ll bet that made you feel good inside.” Let’s make a real effort this month to concentrate on emphasizing competence.
Another part of developing competence in our children is never doing for them what they can do for themselves. I know in the rush to get out the door or to have the house straightened up before daddy gets home, we can take over and do things for our kids that they know how to do. They really don’t mind watching you work. They kind of have a sense of power in dawdling and then seeing you fly around doing their work for them. Stop doing that! Try to remember it will take them longer to do these things by themselves, but the rewards are long lasting.
That’s enough for this letter. Remember the ABCs, Acceptance, Belonging, Competence. Your child’s success depends on these three foundations in life.