Promoting Social Acceptance & Self Esteem in our Children

It seems that every phase of our kid’s development has brought its individual set of opportunities and challenges. Jason and I have 3 boys and each are different with their own unique dispositions. But just like all families it has been with our oldest son Dylan where we have experienced all of the “firsts” as parents.

Like a typical first born Dylan had the benefit of being our only child for four and a half years before his brothers came around. And because he is my son, I naturally knew “everything textbook about child development” (tongue-in-cheek) and Jason followed willingly. Dylan became a bit of an experiment, combination of trial and error mixed with a bit of book knowledge, history, advice from well-meaning others and natural instinct. So far he has turned out pretty good.

Dylan has developed a pretty classic first-born personality which was a contribution of overly doting on him and being excessively neurotic about things like organic food, anti-immunizations, germ-a-phobia and over-scheduling his activities from toddlerhood on up. And every parent of a first-born can likely relate in one-way or another regardless of their parenting style. Dylan didn’t necessarily come out of the womb with the disposition to take the lead or to set the pace; he has been conditioned since birth to walk a straight line and has learned to expect undivided attention in both positive and negative situations. As a first-born Dylan is a pleaser, perfectionist, confident, organized, cautious, and a high-achiever.

Our first-born has kept us on our toes through the years to say the very least. Sometimes we think we are talking to a teenager instead of a child. Recently Dylan was exposed to a game his friends were playing at school and he asked if he could participate. This was a game I had heard of before- I’ve been around the block in education for years. I thought to myself, my goodness, how harmless is a kids card/video game and cartoon? We thought we would limit his exposure and allow him to play.

But in the rush of day-to-day life we failed to look deeper into the intricacies of the game and what a seven year-old takes away from it’s meaning. We allowed Dylan one pack of cards, a guidebook and gave him access to a few cartoons. A few weeks went by and we saw quite the change in our young son’s attitude towards his friends. We don’t necessarily blame the game, it was the peer pressure and Dylan’s obsession for social acceptance in order for him to gain and maintain friendships that created this dilemma in our family.

It’s hard to teach this lesson to your child. Developing self-esteem in our kids is hard and takes a great amount of time in the hurried lives we lead. When Jason and I saw this situation occurring with Dylan he gave us indicators and signs (in his 7 year-old way) to let us know there was a problem.

Jason and I spent a lot of time talking to him and asking him questions, breaking down the situation on why he felt the way he did, giving him choices, building-up his confidence, supporting his sense of self, playing out scenarios to help him ultimately decide that playing the game was not the best choice for him. We discussed other options Dylan could play with his friends and how he could use his natural abilities to create new games with his friends.  Dylan wrestled and struggled with the decision but ultimately decided on his own.

How Parents Can Help

So what can we do as parents to help our kids when faced with self-esteem and social-acceptance issues? According to Dr. Kevin Leman, author of HAVE A NEW KID BY FRIDAY, self-esteem is cultivated in children through Acceptance, Belonging and Competence.


Children do need to be accepted in groups outside of the home. But listen, ask questions and show that you care about his interests and concerns. Develop a relationship with your kids. Dr. Leman says; “Without a relationship, your rules, your words and your actions mean nothing. The wedge between you and your children will drive them toward Acceptance and Belonging outside your home”


As parents we want to belong too. How do you as a family model belonging? Do you make family time a priority? From a very young age you can begin to develop the sense of community, loyalty and connection within your family unit. Do you make your kids feel like they belong in the family unit? Dr. Leman says; “give your kids a vote in decisions listening to what they say and support them in their activities”


As referenced above, I have personally fought this battle and I am winning. Giving children the ability to try life, stumble and fall. Parents today want to be there to protect their kids from even the smallest nicks, scrapes and bruises. Even if it is protection of their self-esteem.  Children today need to do things on their own under the protection of their parents- not because they rescue them or prevent the situation from happening. Dr. Leman writes; “These days, parents are overly concerned with their child’s self esteem. I want Johnny to feel good about himself a mother says. So what does a mother do? She goes out of her way to clear life’s roads for her child, to do things for him that he should be doing for himself.”

Am I glad that Dylan is faced with friendship hassles or that he endures age-appropriate issues with self-esteem? Of course not. I think any parent would admit that it breaks their heart to watch their  child struggle. I want to swoop in and save him.  But Dylan is a first-born boy created by God with all the history, people, and environmental influence that has shaped how his personality came to be and he has skills and abilities to help him persevere through these tough lifes challenges. As his parents- we are here to help guide him and bring out the best in his abilities. Dylan is who he is and we love that little man.

I know that the foundation we are laying is refining his character and empowering him for when Jason or I won’t be there to talk him through a future playground, lunchroom, girlfriend, boardroom, spouse, or parenting trial. I can only rest assured that these life-long deposits in his self-esteem and social-acceptance lessons will build-up for his future. The good news is we can all can have that gift and make these important investments in our children.

References, Adapted: Leman, Kevin, HAVE A NEW KID BY FRIDAY:ABC's Attitude, Behavior, Character,(2012).
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