By Lori Piper
Building self-esteem is an essential aspect in raising a healthy child. One way to do this is to present ‘defeatable challenges’ to your children as often as possible. So what is a defeatable challenge?
Simply put, a defeatable challenge is any task that is not easy, but can be completed with a reasonable amount of time and effort. The most difficult aspect of choosing defeatable challenges for your children is the fact that they are different for each child at any given point in time. Effective defeatable challenges are as unique as each child, and vary with that unique child’s age.
So how do we choose these tasks and begin to improve and maintain our children’s self-esteem? Initially we must observe our children closely:
- watch what they do on their own,
- how hard they effort to complete a task,
- how willing they are to take on a new challenge,
- how they react to completed as well as failed challenges,
- pay attention to their unique abilities,
- note where they stumble in their efforts,
- discern how they learn best (visual, audible, tactile, etc.), and
- pay attention to their interests.
You may be surprised how much you can learn just by watching your children and asking yourself the right questions about what you see.
Once you have spent some time observing, take some time to evaluate what you have seen. It may be helpful to write down different things you have noticed so that you don’t overlook them in the future when you choose defeatable challenges for your child. Take notes on all of the items outlined above, and any others that you may come up with yourself. Then try to come up with tasks that will fit with your child’s abilities and interests as determined by your analysis.
Here is an example:
John is 12 years old. After spending a few days carefully observing her son, his mother wrote down the following:
- he tends to listen to music while doing other activities
- he tries to complete a task with minimal physical effort whenever possible, but is willing to put in the extra effort to complete tasks involving more thinking (for example, he dislikes cleaning his room and mowing the lawn, but works hard to complete the crossword puzzle in the weekly newspaper and help his little sister understand her schoolwork)
- he is reasonably reserved when asked to perform a new task, but is not completely unwilling when given some general directions
- he is reasonably unhappy when he fails and enjoys receiving attention from others when he completes a task
- he has good creative abilities, loves to draw, and writes in a journal every few days
- his physical strength and coordination is lacking, which frustrates him
- he seems to remember to do his chores better when notes are left to remind him, not when he is told to do them verbally
- he is into rock music, skateboarding, and hanging out with his friends, most of whom are into rock music and skateboarding also
Based on the above observations, we can evaluate his strengths, weaknesses, and desires, and use these to develop effective tasks to challenge him and improve his overall self-esteem.
He is definitely at an age where the approval of his friends is important to his self-esteem. Any task that will win his friends’ approval would be good.
His lack of physical coordination could be problematic since he and his friends like to skateboard. A task involving skateboarding could be appropriate, such as building a ramp or some other prop that he and his friends can use. This will not only involve physical activity that does not require specific coordination (measuring, cutting, nailing, painting) but he will also have the opportunity to practice his skateboarding on the ramp or prop, which can help to improve his coordination over time. Encouraging practice in areas where a child is lacking without making it seem like practice can be tricky, but this is an example of how that can be done.
He is willing to take on new tasks with some general direction, so having his father or another authority figure guide him through the general steps will be helpful. Construction is not always as easy as it originally appears, and precautions must be taken with the safe use of tools and machinery.
His intellectual and creative abilities are strong and should be continually challenged as they undoubtedly contribute to his self-esteem. This task also involves intellectual capacity, as anyone who has ever tried to build anything can attest to. Proper preparation, drawings, measurements, and design must be taken into consideration. Since he enjoys intellectual challenges, this task should be fun and rewarding for him, and he will have his friends praise when the task is completed, something which he enjoys.
You can see how spending the time to observe and evaluate his or her abilities, needs, and desires can give you some insights on what types of tasks would be “defeatable challenges” for your child. Taking on new challenges and overcoming them is the cornerstone of self-esteem. The more challenges your children take on and effort to complete, the prouder they will be of themselves and their ability to take on any challenge that may show itself in the future.