I am the youngest of 3 children; the only boy. For the first 7 years of my life, I lived a comfortable, care-free life, being spoiled by my family and constantly told how great I was. I didn’t really experience many failures, but if I did, my parents made excuses for me and smoothed things over. By doing this, they were inadvertently teaching me to be dependent, rather than independent. Like many other parents, mine were concerned with my self-esteem. They showered me with praise thinking that’s what I needed in order to become a happy and successful adult. However, the constant praise and the lack of responsibility for my failures resulted in a child who was not confident, not independent, and not able to handle any roadblocks. I needed constant stroking and encouragement to motivate me when faced with any obstacles that came my way. This became a problem in every facet of my life, from making friends to my ability to handle school, and even strained my relationships with my family.
At the age of eight, my parents enrolled me in a karate school. This wasn’t the typical karate school that you find today as an extracurricular activity for kids. It was a traditional school with a resolute instructor from Korea. The school produced champion after champion, many of whom still trained there daily. My eight-year-old self quickly realized that these people were very different than me. My initial reaction was fear and hesitation. I really wanted to be there, but I was afraid and I didn’t think I could ever be like these dedicated students. I wanted to quit because I knew I would fail, and I didn’t want to fail in front of these accomplished people. Luckily for me, this time my parents didn’t listen, or give in, to my complaining. Despite some very impressive tantrums, they simply kept taking me back to class. Without my parents and sisters with me at the karate school, I realized I couldn’t depend on them to fix my problems; I had to do it on my own! Now, three decades later, owning and running my own martial arts school, I realize that I wouldn’t be who I am today had they let me quit.
All over the world, we see activities where every child gets a medal for simply participating in an event. The idea is to build their confidence and self-esteem through fun and constant praise. However, confidence and self-esteem cannot be bought, negotiated for, or simply given. They are built from the ground up through hard work, failure, determination, failure, and more hard work.
Be honest with your children and help them through whatever obstacles they may face. However, do not do it for them. Allow them to fail and figure a way forward. The world is tough, that’s why we have to be tougher!