A lot of people ask me: "Shahab! How can we strengthen our self-esteem and the self-esteem of people under our supervision, i.e. our children, students, clients or staff?"
There is a common culture these days to always praise and encourage the people under our supervision, no matter what. For example, if a student takes an exam and fails, we may tell her: "It’s OK, you showed up, the result is not important." Or an employee submits her report too late and does not meet the required standards, and we would tell her: "No problem, what’s important is that you made the effort." We do this while we know the student’s grade was not good; we know the employee did not try hard enough. Why do we do this? Just because we do not want to upset them; we do not want them to cry. Ultimately we do not want their self-esteem to be damaged.
Is the way to boost self-esteem always to reward the child, students, clients and staff, and to never expose them to difficult situations and real feedback? Psychological research reveals evidence to the contrary. Dr. Albert Bandura, the psychologist who has done extensive research on self-efficacy, says, “Self-esteem is the result of small successes.” Here’s how it works: The student studies a short lesson, takes a quiz, and gets a good grade, empowering her to believe that she can succeed in more difficult exams as well. The employee completes a small project, submits a small report in a good shape, reinforcing her belief that she can handle bigger projects as well. Small successful steps build self-esteem.
So, if you want the people under your supervision, i.e. your children, students, clients and employees, to have higher self-esteem, do not prevent them from harsh realities, difficult situations and real feedback. Undeserved praise undermines self-esteem. Stay away from feedback like these: “Kid! You do not have to take a difficult exam because your feelings might be hurt!” or "Employee! Well done, you tried", while you know her work was not good enough.
The way to true self-esteem is to achieve small successes. Small consistent steps lead us to self-esteem.