Stephen R. Covey, author of the best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, writes in his books about the idea of an emotional bank account. The idea is that you have one emotional bank account with each other person with whom you have a relationship and the level of trust within a specific relationship depends on the balance of the bank account. If you have made many withdrawals, for example by making mean comments, ignoring the person or hurting the person in some other way, the balance of your account will be very low or even overdrawn. In such a case the level of trust in the relationship will be low or very low. If you on the other hand have made many deposits, for example by listening actively to the person, encouraging the person or keeping promises to the person, your account balance will be high. The level of trust between you and the other person will be high and the relationship will feel very fulfilling and strong.
You can use this simile of a bank account to teach children how to raise their self-esteem. Your self-esteem is essentially your relationship with yourself. If you have a high self-esteem you feel good about yourself. You trust in your ability to achieve goals, you like the way you look and you feel like an intelligent, helpful and lovable person. To have a high self-esteem you need to have a high balance in your self-esteem bank account. You get this by continuously making deposits. Deposits into your self-esteem bank account can be to stand up for yourself when somebody teases you or to pat yourself on your back when you have done something good.
If you have low self-esteem, the balance in your self-esteem bank account will be low and you will have a bad relationship with yourself. You will think that you are stupid, ugly, boring and unable to do anything well. People who have this low self-esteem have made too many withdrawals from their self-esteem bank accounts. They may have let themselves be bullied or critisised themselves when they have made mistakes.
When you explain this to your children you can draw up a simple chart of their self-esteem bank account. Make two columns: one for deposits and one for withdrawals. For simplicity (especially when teaching small children who have not yet learnt to calculate), let’s say that each deposits gives you one point and that for each withdrawal you have to subtract one point. Talk to the child about the possible things that he/she could do to make deposits into the self-esteem bank account. Talk also about the things that count as withdrawals and for which the child would have to subtract points.
As you turn this self-esteem hunting exercise into a game the child will be eager to gain as many points into his/her self-esteem bank account as possible. By searching for, and discussing with the parents, positive things to do towards oneself, the child will learn what to do to raise his/her self-esteem even in the future. This exercise also makes children aware of the importance of self-esteem, that it is possible to raise your own self-esteem and that you are yourself responsible for it (a truth that many adults unfortunately have forgotten).
Liv Miyagawa – The Self-Esteem Coach