Q: My teenage daughter wasn't asked to the prom, and she's devastated. As a father, what can I do to encourage her?
Jim: First of all, try to avoid making a big issue of her disappointment. Prom night is one of the most overhyped experiences of adolescence. Your daughter's friends, the media and the prevailing culture have all told her that she's missing out on the biggest evening of her life, and it probably won't do much good to try to convince her otherwise. But it's just as unhelpful to say or do anything that might foster or prolong her melancholy mood.
That's not to say that you should ignore or make light of her feelings. The emotions she's going through are very real, and they have nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the prom. They're primarily related to her sense of self-worth. So be sensitive. Don't try to apply a quick-fix solution. Give her time to be sad and withdrawn. Back off if you get the impression that she's unwilling to discuss the matter.
When she does come to the point of opening up, take time to listen. Reaffirm her as a person, reinforce the importance of character as opposed to mere popularity and social standing, and remind her that she will have something to offer a fortunate young man when the time is right. And as opportunities arise, help her gain a more realistic view of events like the prom.
On a more practical level, you might consider recommending an alternate activity for the evening. If some of her friends are free, host a movie night. If everybody else is at the prom, propose a "Dad date" at a location of her choosing. If she decides to stay home, encourage her to call a friend far away (and don't worry about the minutes). And whatever you do, take pains to reassure her of your love.
Q: Our 7-year-old is negative all the time. He's the youngest of four boys, and we always try to encourage him and build up his self-esteem. Nothing seems to be enough. How can we help him to be more positive?
Juli: Helping your son become more positive may have less to do with making him feel better about himself and more to do with how he interacts with the rest of the world. The positive–thinking, self-esteem movement has shown, in many cases, to be doing more harm than good for kids. Building a child's self-esteem only through encouragement can feel like blowing up a balloon that has a hole in it. No matter how much air you put in, it will still leak out.
Try getting your son involved in helping and encouraging others through a family mission trip or volunteering at a local nonprofit organization. This will do two things that build genuine self-esteem and self-respect: instill gratitude and show him that he can make a difference.
When your son sees others who have difficulties greater than his own, it will help him realize how much he has to be grateful for. Meeting people who live with much less than he does is far more powerful than words that encourage gratefulness. You can't really complain about having brown eyes when you meet someone who is blind.
Your son will also see that his efforts to help others are a unique contribution to the world. You won't have to persuade him that he is talented or smart. Seeing that he's helped someone less fortunate will be enough to convince him that his life can make a difference.
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