Assumptions and Caveats Several assumptions must be mentioned that are integral to our propositions. First, the entire process of developing self-esteem assumes a caring relationship. The qualities of affection and concern for the welfare of the child are so fundamental that we have little to say to parents who are not so emotionally invested. Similarly, therapists’ care for their clients is axiomatic.
No ethical therapist would presume to treat parents or families without at least a modicum of regard for their well-being. Next, the development of self-esteem must be considered within the larger developmental process of the child. The nature of the parent-child relationship as well as the tasks of healthy development must change over time. An effective relationship at one time will not necessarily be as worthwhile an influence at a later stage of development. Also, general principles may be functional, yet their expression may need to take a different form. While we suggest, for example, that acceptance is always important, its communication changes dramatically.
The acceptance is identical, but the language has changed. Other relationships, such as the control dimension, shift in both expression and substance to match the child’s developmental needs. A corollary to the developmental assumption is this:
Parents all too frequently choose their parenting styles not from a consideration of the child’s present need but from the unexamined reservoir of their own experiences in being parented. Having been learned at a more primitive level, their initial, “reflexive” response to exigencies of the moment will be either to repeat their analogous experience or, if they had a strong negative reaction to the event, to react in an opposite fashion, equally without planning. Because parents draw from their affective summary of what it was like for them as a child, then, what the child usually receives over time is a thematic and somewhat homogeneous experience.
Thus, even caring parents are apt to be more effective at some stages of the child’s development and less so at others. Another assumption is illustrated in this truism: In order to treat your children the same, you have to treat them differently. Children vary considerably, even within families. A parenting strategy employed with good effect on one child at age three may be inappropriate for a sibling at that age. Excellent longitudinal studies clearly indicate temperamental differences that must be taken into ac-count. In the adolescent years, what is coping for one child may be avoiding for another. Dependent, anxious children will fear challenging or disagreeing with others, whereas the oppositional child whose interpersonal strategy seems to be that the-best-defense-is-a-good-offence (misspelling intended) may be most fearful of a warm, cooperative relationship. A final assumption:
We freely admit that we have been describing an agentive theory in this book. Children, albeit influenced greatly by parents, are not caused. In spite of their best efforts, some children will not choose the outcomes parents have prepared for them, or interpret the parents’ persuasions as they in-tended them to be perceived. Other significant people (i.e., teachers, peers, even strangers) affect the lives of children in both beneficial and harmful ways, and, in the case of hurtful experiences, children’s interpretations may not be completely countermanded by the efforts of parents or therapists.
or most, there is a dramatic resurgence of the need to be accepted. Issues relevant to self-esteem, resolved successfully in childhood, resurface in the search for identity, at a time when parental influence may be seen as a threat to self-definition. Thus, the most expert counsel does not produce inevitable results. But it may increase understanding, foster planning by
parents, and emphasize critical learning experiences at the appropriate developmental stage, thereby increasing the chances for fostering self-esteem.