From an article by a leading Florida psychologist:
1. The Value of Being Uncomfortable
Losing stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it sometimes makes kids feel the emotional sting of being uncomfortable.
Parents concerned about self-esteem are not letting their children do difficult things or experience difficult emotions, and as a result, we are developing adults who expect a lot from life but may not be willing to give much.
When kids are praised for everything and “everyone’s a winner,” it reduces their desire to put in their best effort and reduces their ability to regulate negative emotions.
Our job as parents is to instill in our children a resilience and grit that allows them to trust that they can indeed handle negative emotion and use it to confront the inevitable challenges of life with confidence.
The ability to self-regulate and handle negative emotion is consistently identified as a central player in whether people succeed in business, in relationships and in life.
The danger of refusing to allow our kids to feel the negative emotions of loss and discomfort is most obvious on our college campuses.
The kids who got participation trophies growing up are expecting “emotionally safe” environments.
Some of our colleges and universities have gone so far to protect against anything that could make anyone feel uncomfortable that that they have oppressed free speech and dialogue.
When these young people go from the safe places created for them in the educational space to the real world called the workplace, they sometimes struggle with this reality.
When someone does not meet their needs or makes them the slightest bit uncomfortable, they feel micro-aggressed or bullied.
We must allow our kids to understand that being uncomfortable is a part of life and that they can indeed learn from those experiences of loss and use them as an opportunity to grow. We don’t win every time, but we can learn every time.
2. Self-esteem vs. Status
As a culture we have confused self-esteem and status.
Status means we are positioned as superior or inferior to those around us.
If I would have coached my son to respond to the loss at the tournament through the lens of status, he would have left feeling inferior to the real winners.
Status focuses on the pecking order we can create mentally in almost any social situation.
With status as our guide, we are valuable if we win and valueless if we lose.
Self-esteem is a very different concept. Self-esteem is based on the idea that we can value ourselves based on qualities and traits that are inherent to who we are as humans.
Accordingly, self-esteem can be based on qualities such as grit, hard work, integrity and character.
Giving my team trophies even though they lost the tournament suggests that somehow you have to walk away with the same kind of prize that the winner has in order to feel good about your effort.
Our kids don’t need that. They need to know that their best effort combined with grit, determination, and character is all they need to feel good about their effort in life.
3. Innovation vs. Depression & Anxiety
Although parents who protect their children from experiencing negative emotion are attempting to keep their children safe, they are actually exposing their children to some unforeseen negative consequences.
The exaggerated thinking says “you shouldn’t have to handle feeling negative emotion” unintentionally creates situations where young people feel disempowered and even assume everyone has hostile intentions.
These negative patterns of thinking are habits of anxious and depressed people. It comes as no coincidence then that there has been a rise in anxiety, depression and suicide among our children.
The irony is thick here: when everyone’s a winner we are creating an environment in which more children will struggle with chronic negative emotion and mental health problems.
Dr. Mike Ronsisvalle is a Licensed Psychologist and the President of Florida Counseling Centers, a psychological services agency that provides counseling to clients of all ages and addictions treatment to adolescents and adults. You can find him on the web at Floridacounselingcenters.com; https://www.facebook.com/LessStressedLife/ and https://twitter.com/MikeRonsisvalle