Teaching Life Skills

Parents do a great many things in the name of self-esteem. They praise their children, they get children involved in sports and activities, they buy their children name-brand clothing and popular toys, and they often sacrifice their own needs so their children will have what they want. What researchers tell us, however, is that none of these things will give children self-esteem. In fact, you cannot give your son self-esteem at all; he must grow it for himself. The best way to accomplish this important task is by teaching your son life skills.

Think about a time when you tried something new, faced a challenge, or took on a task you weren't sure you could accomplish — and you succeeded. How did you feel? Chances are you felt proud, confident, and optimistic. Learning skills and mastering a challenge — what experts call competency experiences — are vital to developing healthy self-esteem. When parents do too much, children never get the opportunity to learn about their own capability and resources. They never get the chance to build their own self-esteem.

Your son should participate in the daily tasks of making a family work. But rather than assigning him chores, consider inviting him to learn skills. When your son knows how to do things for himself, he will develop confidence, which in turn will help him resist unhealthy peer pressure. Your son will also develop a sense of belonging and significance when he knows he is a contributing member of his family.

There are many ways to teach your son life skills. For starters, you can invite your son to keep you company as you work in the home or yard. Let him try his hand at tasks; remember, you must teach him the skills involved in doing a job well. Consider his age; a teenager can mow the lawn easily while an eight-year-old may feel discouraged. Be sure to say thank you when he helps you.

You must also allow your son to try — and sometimes fail. Your boy will not be damaged by failure; in fact, he can learn courage and coping skills when you allow him to try without rescuing him. Stay close and offer support, celebrate when he succeeds, and offer empathy when he fails.

Perhaps most importantly, you must teach your son to build on his strengths and to manage his weaknesses. Everyone is not gifted at the same things. Your son may be a natural athlete or a talented student; he may love computers or music. Whatever he loves, give him opportunities to enjoy it. When your son must do things he dislikes, avoid blame and shame and look instead for solutions. Remember, mistakes are opportunities to learn.

Discipline is about far more than responding to misbehavior. Effective discipline — teaching your son character, attitudes, and skills — is something that should happen every hour and every day of your lives together. At its heart, discipline is a powerful expression of your love for your son.

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