Some things are wonderful but were never meant to be used alone. Take butter, for example. Melted pats of butter are wonderful on toast or green beans, but who eats chunks of butter alone? Then there is salt – the seasoning meant to please our taste buds and make popped corn more yummy. But, again, nobody eats salt alone. And so it is with Self-Esteem.
Schools, counselors, family consultants, and parent coaches have pushed the self-esteem agenda for decades. The war cry was “they must feel good about who they are”. The problem is that teaching children to have self-esteem without a foundation of compassion and empathy can lead to real trouble.
Some children who engage in school violence and school shootings are able to discuss their plans with pride. They have self-esteem about their insane and horrific intentions to harm other human beings. These children may also lack emotional self-regulation and self-calming capacities.
So at Orchard Human Services, we have learned that children must learn about compassion, empathy and theory-of-mind FIRST. Only then, when the child has the ability to recognize that each person has their own thoughts and feelings … and care about the feelings of others … can a child develop a realistic sense of self-esteem.
For some children, compassion and empathy naturally develop as a result of interactions with family, friends, and school. Children with challenges, including those with attachment disorder [referring to Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder DSED and Reactive Attachment Disorder RAD], may fail to fully develop awareness of compassion. These children are at risk of developing false self-esteem that is based upon irrational or empty factors.
An example of false self-esteem is a child who steals a pair of expensive sneakers and feels good about himself for wearing cool shoes. Even more dramatic examples of faulty self-esteem is the child who feels good about bullying and beating up another child.
All children benefit from clear instruction and developmental support to promote awareness of theory of mind – that my thoughts are different from yours; compassion; and empathy. Students being served by an IEP under IDEA must be evaluated for social and emotional capacities; so parents of children receiving special education services can check with the special ed department for more information about promoting compassion and empathy, which are components of emotional development.
Orchard Human Services, Inc. provides extensive training and services to help children, families, and other professionals learn best practices for promoting healthy social and emotional development of infants and children. Child therapy and child counseling services help little ones get the help they need. The child therapist or child counselor is equipped to deal with issued connected to child mental health and child development.
Dr. Darleen Claire Wodzenski is the founder of Orchard Human Services, Inc. and provides direct services to children and families around the Metro Atlanta area. She is a national speaker, author, and child development specialist who also offers long distance telephone and internet-based consulting and intervention services around the country.
Dr. Darleen sees clients in offices in Alpharetta, College Park, Cumberland, Hiram, and Marietta, Georgia. She can be reached at 770-686-0894 or by email at Dr.Darleen@OrchardHumanServices.org.