My husband comes from a big family and I have a rather large extended family. When Jonathan was born, he was the first baby born in his generation. When you come from baby-obsessed families like ours, life is an endless supply of hugs, kisses, adoration and attention. He could make a crowded room grow quiet in an instant with his happy chatter or little baby steps. He always had a grandma or aunt or uncle wanting to hold him, and later, spend time playing and interacting with him.
At home, we gave him our attention and fostered his curiosities and interests. We practiced positive reinforcement and praise versus negative criticism as a way to change behaviors. He was showered with love and support, and yet he struggled with insecurities and lack of confidence.
Love is not enough.
What? I thought “all you need is love!” What I realized is that unconditional love and support from your family is the foundation. They give you the strength to go out in the world and take risks because you know that family has your back and will be there with you every step of the way, no matter what. But self-esteem comes from personal achievement…you can praise and pass out certificates and stickers and clap and give your undivided attention, but you cannot “give” someone confidence.
I could see my son falling behind developmentally and academically with his peers. Even though he couldn’t express it, I could tell that he felt like someone who’ll never be as good as anyone else.
Taking a risk so he can take risks.
I became hyper-aware and listened for anything he would talk about to give me a clue for finding something (anything) he was interested in where his involvement could result in personal achievement. Notice the “could.” No matter what I’d find, there was a risk that he’d get frustrated, feel like a failure and want to give up too soon. But I had to take that risk, so he had opportunities for success. I had to become a really good matchmaker for his interests and abilities.
Making a U-turn towards opportunity.
We were driving in the car and Jonathan said in casual conversation that he thought he might like to do karate. A bell went off and my instincts screamed…”this is it!” I literally made a U-turn (ask my mother who was visiting) and signed him up. He loved the karate gi (uniform), the structure and discipline of the class, the traditions, and learning the moves. He worked hard and was motivated to earn his belts.
From my journal…
Tonight you became an orange belt! I was so nervous. You were calm and collected. You gave it everything you had…and you succeeded! It wasn’t given to you out of kindness. You earned it! I was so proud and happy for your personal victory.
Karate changed Jonathan and I know it was the personal sense of accomplishment that made such an impact on his self-esteem. He ultimately reached a brown belt level before leaving Karate behind for acting, his most dramatically life-altering, confidence-building journey to date. But that’s a story for another day…
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