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Jane Eyre – How to Raise a Kid with Good Self-Esteem

By David Bain

Jesse Jackson once said, “Your children need your presence more than your presents”. When stated it seems obvious that a child’s early years can determine the rest of their life. What seems so obvious, however, is often ignored. Parents often forget that offering support and companionship is as important as a good home and material possessions. It is important for parents to understand that a child’s self-esteem is determined, in large part, by how they are raised. Creating self-esteem is one of the most important aspects of parenting.

An exceptional demonstration of this principle is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane’s childhood led her to never feel adequate. Jane is raised at Gateshead by her aunt, Mrs. Reed. Mrs. Reed and her cruel kids constantly abuse Jane. Mrs. Reed did not want to adopt Jane and it was only because of Mr. Reed that she did. When Mr. Reed died Mrs. Reed no longer felt as if she had to be kind to Jane. Throughout her experiences at Gateshead, Jane is treated as if she doesn’t belong and she never will. This feeling stays with her for the rest of her life and Jane always feels inadequate. Mr. Brocklehurst, the headmaster of Lowood, comes to Jane’s house and says to Jane, “That proves you have a wicked heart”. At the school at Lowood Jane has few friends and is treated as a wicked child. The school enforces Jane’s feelings that she is a bad child. At Thornfield she doesn’t feel as if she can pursue her love of Mr. Rochester. Jane then flees Thornfield because she discovers Mr. Rochester has a wife. As a result she is forced to beg for food.

What makes Jane Eyre such a useful guide to parenting is that Jane is raised exactly the opposite of how a kid should be raised to inspire confidence and build self-esteem. The three keys for raising a child with a good self-esteem are to:

  1. Give a sense of confidence
  2. Give a sense of importance
  3. Give your kids the respect they deserve.

Key #1: Give your child a sense of confidence

A child needs to feel as if he can accomplish activities and tasks. One way to instill this sense of confidence is to encourage safe risk taking. Jane was constantly being told to stop causing trouble. She is given no room to explore or think for herself. She is told to dust and her maid comes in and says, “Troublesome, careless child! And what are you doing now. You look quite red, as if you had been about some mischief.” Jane is given no room to explore and build confidence. Kids learn through trial and error, so if there is no trial allowed their will be no learning. In fact babies learn to speak through trial and error. They test out words and through positive feedback and encouragement they eventually learn a language. Nothing inspires confidence like taking a calculated risk and being rewarded. For younger kids these risks could include a lemonade stand or a talent show. When I was young my sister and I used to set up lemonade stands every summer. By doing this I learned that I could make smart decisions and run a business. Both these activities can inspire a sense of confidence and self-reliance in young children. For older children simple building projects are good ways to inspire confidence. I still have a catapult I built when I was young.

A second key aspect for inspiring confidence in children is freedom. Not “you can eat tons of candy” freedom, but “you are capable to make the right decisions” freedom. If children are allowed to make their own judgments they will be more confident to make decisions in the future. Jane was never allowed any freedom. Mrs. Reed and her kids constantly questioned everything Jane did. Jane tried to read a difficult book and Mrs. Reed’s son, John, comes in and says, “You have no business to take our books”. One way to give your child creativity is to let them explore. A kid’s natural reaction in a new place is to explore it. Unless it is unsafe to do so, let them explore. Creating an environment where kids can depend on themselves inspires a sense of confidence that creates a good self-esteem.

Key #2: Create a sense of importance

Children need to feel involved and that they are part of the family. In Jane Eyre Mrs. Reed sends Jane up to an isolated room to spend the night when Jane misbehaves. This isolates Jane from the rest of the family and sends the message that she is not important. It is human instinct to try to fit in and be part of a group. Being included in a family makes a child feel more secure and confident. A great way to include kids is to have them help with tasks such as gardening or basic yard work. As a young child I used to be so proud when the food I helped grow ended up on the dinner table. These hands-on activities make kids feel grown up and involve kids in otherwise grown up tasks.

Key #3: Treat kids with the respect they deserve

Nothing lowers self-esteem faster than not being given the respect you deserve. In Jane Eyre Mrs. Reed treats Jane as if she is not human. She talks to Mr. Brocklehurst about how Jane is a wicked child right in front of Jane. This makes Jane feel ignored and unworthy. To show children that you respect them make sure you hear them out as long as they have something reasonable to say. A good rule of thumb is to obey the rules you set for the kids such as remembering to say please and thank you to them. This will convey the message that they are just as important as you are.

Putting it all together

Jane Eyre is an extreme example of bad parenting. While most parents would never put their children through this mental abuse it is important to encourage kids to be adventurous and to be comfortable. Self-esteem formed in childhood stays with kids for the rest of their life. Use the three keys to improve your parenting.

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