The other day, after spending a few hours making a hat out of wire and drink umbrellas, my son stood modeling his head art for me.
“You are so awesome,'” I told him.
“I know!” He said.
There was no arrogance in his voice, and I wasn’t necessarily gushing over him because he made some hat and I think he deserves a trophy. I was simply telling him that he is amazing for being exactly who he is.
My son is not the star of any team. He gets average grades. He didn’t win the Geo Bee this year, but after making it to the finals for his class, and getting a few answers wrong which disqualified him for the big competition, I reminded him of his awesomeness yet again.
“That was a big deal to stand up in front of your peers and lots of adults you didn’t know and answer those questions,” I told him. It was a big deal because he didn’t want to do it, and he had some anxiety about getting the questions wrong while everyone was watching him, but he did it anyway.
I’ve seen him struggle when he has to do something he’s not good at. When he was younger and we’d go bowling or play mini golf, he’d get furious if he wasn’t playing well. His frustration told me he felt his “awesomeness” was missing just because he wasn’t the highest scorer or was off his game. When he started school, I signed him up for basketball and kickball. I could see it his face change if he missed a basket or didn’t understand a play and made a mistake. He was starting to define himself through how good he was at something. It was hard not to tell him to get over it, have fun, and enjoy the activity for that it was. Truth be told, I did say it a few times, but soon I realized it wasn’t having an effect on him. Baskets, goals, and correct answers began to dictate his self-confidence.
A little competitiveness in our kids is healthy, but when they start to feel they are only “awesome” because they are the high-scorer, or got the best grade on the test, it can damage their self-esteem—who wants to live under that kind of pressure?
You know what else is okay? Teaching our kids they are still amazing even if they just get by. You can encourage them to do their best and raise them knowing they are worthy even if they aren’t at the top of their game. It’s not an easy thing to do—thinking you are awesome for just being you—but my son has somehow gotten there. Truth be told, I’m still over here working on attaining his level of confidence.
He is a very generous, loving person. He’s the youngest of my three children and by far the most caring. He’s the one who always looks out for his mom makes and sure I have what I need. He’s the first to jump up to help someone. He’s creative and loves science and history. Every spring, he plants seeds in his room—seeds he’s saved from food like apples or watermelon he’s eaten then has dried them himself in our pantry.
Instead of scolding my son for being a sore loser, I’ve tried to teach him we are all awesome for different reasons, and being the best at something should not define our self-worth, or keep us from doing things we love. We’ve all heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy,” and for some of our kids, these tendencies start early.
We want nothing more than for our kids to grow up knowing they are loved and accepted for who they are, regardless of their skills. And more than that, we want them to have a certain confidence that will carry them through life. No one can make them believe in themselves, or make them feel peaceful and happy—that’s an inside job. I want my son to know no matter what he does in life, whether he’s the star of the baseball team, or makes hats for a living, that he is awesome.
Seeing the way he carries himself with grace, joy, and confidence, like on the day when I complimented his hat, is one of the best gifts he can give me and himself. I hope he never loses that.