It turns out psychologists may have gotten it wrong. Over the years, there has been a tremendous emphasis in our society on building kids’ self-esteem. Psychologists now think we should be teaching children how to develop self-compassion instead.
The problem is that self-esteem is often developed by social comparison, meaning it requires a person to feel special and superior to others on a variety of dimensions. Kids feel good about themselves when they get the A, win the game, receive the trophy and sometimes even by putting other kids down to make themselves feel better. But this constant comparison needing to be better than other kids instills a belief that it is not ok to be average. When things don’t go well, feelings of superiority slip and self-esteem takes a nose dive, leaving kids vulnerable to anxiety, insecurity and depression.