A Child's Self Esteem

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Child Development

A Child's Self Esteem

Child Self Esteem

Why does one child, raised by loving parents, grow into a teen that makes self destructive or rebellious choices? How is it on the other hand, that another child, raised in a chaotic family can develop a love for what is right and make wise choices for their life? The key is a healthy amount of self-esteem, confidence and self worth. As parents we need to help our children gain confidence and have the courage to achieve goals so that they can feel good about themselves ie. self esteem. Our attitude toward their achievements, however great or small will determine whether they develop feelings of accomplishment and self-confidence or inappropriate dependence on parents for approval.

Studies have indicated that it takes one hour of positive reinforcement to cancel out 10 minutes of negative reinforcement. In other words, every time you criticize your child, or have a negative interaction, it will leave emotional scars, unless you counter the negativity with several positive interactions. It takes much more time and effort to undo damage than it does to create growth-promoting experiences from the start. In order to help our children fill their emotional bucket our level of positive interactions with them needs to far exceed the negative.

Yelling is never productive. It may occasionally bring about immediate results but most often it is like fire to a stick of dynamite. Yelling ignites arguments, encourages defensiveness, impairs listening ability and creates an attitude of resentment and/or revenge. Yelling is the futile effort of a frustrated parent who is ill equipped to deal with the situation in a healthy way. It is better for the parent to learn and exercise self restraint than to model poor impulse control for the child. After all, children will mimic what they see.

Politeness can go a long way in winning cooperation when dealing with a child. When we are able to phrase our requests in a way that lets the child know that we respect them, and understand that they too have feelings, they will be more willing to fill our requests. For instance, we can say, "I know that you may not want to take out the garbage right now but it would help me a great deal if you would." Or, "When the next commercial break comes, I would appreciate it if you would take out the trash." Anytime you phrase something in a way that reduces resentful attitudes, and encourages harmony, you will create a win-win situation.

The tone of your voice is crucial in enlisting cooperation. Most often, our children hear more from our tone of voice than from our words. Be careful to be honest in your words so that you don't send conflicting messages. The message not spoken is the message the child will believe. Studies have shown that only 10% of communication is verbal. The other 90% is nonverbal. Be congruent with your words and body language.

Suicidal children have many things in common with one another. Low self-esteem is one of them. If your child is exhibiting symptoms of severe depression, seek help immediately. Beware of falling into a trap of believing that it isn't as bad as you think, or that it will pass. The fact is that each year hundreds of children between the ages of 5-21 kill themselves. Although many children who contemplate suicide have a biochemical issue that predisposes them to depression many suicidal kids have been beaten down psychologically by bullies or negative parenting and have not developed a strong enough self esteem to help them endure the pain of negativity.

If your child says anything insinuating that they don't want to live, or they "just can't go on," take it seriously and talk with the child, express your love for them and let them know that you would feel terrible if they weren't around. Learn to recognize the subtle signs of a suicidal child. Look for changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, grades and peer relationships. Are they spending more time alone than usual? Have they been giving away personal items to siblings or friends? Are they suddenly feeling happy and even euphoric after a period of depression or reclusiveness? If your child has a long period of depression that is suddenly lifted and followed by a euphoria or an overall "relaxed" feeling, get help immediately. Children often become relaxed and even euphoric once they have made the decision to take their life. The euphoria comes from the relief of believing they won't have to suffer much longer.

Your Child's Self-Worth

Teach by example

Strengthen your own self-esteem first. We cannot give away what we don.t already have. A parent who has an underlying sense of self loathing or who exudes a lack of confidence cannot teach their child to feel confident and self accepting. If a parent goes through life afraid to try new things, avoids reaching or setting goals for personal improvement or is self deprecating the child learns to navigate the world in the same way.

Avoid using flattery to manipulate behavior. Doing so is exercising inappropriate dominion over another when their behavior is not acceptable. Flattery has short-term effects which is based on a dependent need for approval. The child who strives to please us and gain our approval is a slave. He/she develops little individual identity, lacks self-confidence, thinks poorly of themselves and depends on others for their happiness. Inappropriate praise fosters these traits. For example when a child gets a good grade it is better to recognize their effort and validate their hard work than to say .great job,. or .good boy.. The latter is using flattery to make a judgement about the child while the former is expressing your feelings of happiness and acknowledging the child.s ability to set and reach goals. One says, .I accept you when you are good. and the other says .That.s awesome..

Give Credit. Appropriate praise builds self-esteem and confidence, and fosters independence. Praise that incorporates judgments such as "your a good boy," is an element of judgment that is inherent in manipulative praise. We have no more right to judge positively than we do to judge negatively. Both are judgements rather than giving credit where credit is due. Noticing the achievement and validating the child.s feelings of accomplishment are far more effective in promoting self esteem.

Encourage children. Lack of encouragement will cause a child to misbehave or to act out. Encouraging a child to try new behaviors is one of the most important elements in raising a child. Each child needs to be encouraged continuously just as his body needs nourishment to grow and develop. Parents can unintentionally discourage their children.


Jane, a 4 year old, was shopping with her mother. Seeing her mother pick up a carton of eggs Jane reached for a carton as well. "No, Jane! You will break them. Wait until you are bigger, then you can help me." Jane felt angry and rejected. The mother discouraged Jane by impressing on her that she was small and incapable of helping. Jane.s mother could have helped Jane.s self confidence by saying, "Jane it looks like you want to help me shop, here let me help you." After putting the eggs in the cart together the mother might say, "I need some help getting butter too."

You can show trust in your child by sharing feelings and giving responsibility rather than taking it away. If we share our general worries, concerns and goals with a child who has caused us worry and if we tell him how his behavior has affected us, we show trust and give responsibility. By contrast, ordering, warning, and punishing take responsibility away from the child and place it with the parent.

When calm, talking with your child about how their unwanted behavior affects you can help them understand that their behavior has consequences that affects others. Even younger children can begin to see outside of themselves and learn that their negative behaviors causes hurt and angry feelings in others.

Eliminate destructive competition for self-esteem. Avoid comparing children with each other or with other people. Doing so is a form of rejection. In effect we are saying, "we don't like you the way you are. We want you to be like someone else.


"Most Adults believe that all honest praise is helpful to children. Parents and teachers endorse praise without reservations. Praise is supposed to build confidence, increase security, and stimulate initiative, motivate learning, generate good will, and improve human relations.

If praise can accomplish all that, why do we still have so many insecure children, under stimulated students, unmotivated underachievers, unchallenged dropouts, and deliberate delinquents. Apparently, not all is well with praise. Too often it has not kept its promise". (Haim G. Ginott, Between Parent and Teenager.

Flattery is generally insincere. It is more of a judgment than a statement of appreciation. Praise that judges a person's worth or personality can be destructive. For instance saying, "Your such a good girl for cleaning your room," is a judgment of the child's worth and can cause the child to feel "worthless."

Unless the child is doing exactly what the parent wants him/her to do, s/he is put into a position where the child is forced to choose between being the parent's automaton or creating his/her own identity.

A more productive way of praising the child may be to say, "Your room looks so pretty, I really like what you've done with it."

Praise that evaluates personality or character is unpleasant for the recipient and can cause them to feel anxious or defensive, (because they feel they are being judged). Praise that describes efforts, accomplishments, and feelings is helpful and safe.


After Eric, a 16 year old boy, mowed the lawn and cleaned up the yard as best he could, his father commented, "The yard looks like a garden."
Eric: "Does it?"
Father: "It's a pleasure to look at it."
Eric: "It's nice."
Father: "What a job. In one day you cleaned it all up! Thank you."
Eric: "Anytime, dad."

Father did not praise Eric's personality. He only described the yard and his feelings of pleasure. Eric concluded: "I've done a good job. Father is pleased." He felt good enough to offer his services as a gardener.

Praise and self-image

Descriptive recognition as opposed to evaluative praise, is likely to lead to realistic self-image. Praise has two parts: Our words and the teenager's conclusions. Our praise should reflect what we appreciate about their work, efforts, achievement consideration or creation.

  • Helpful praise: "Thank you for washing the car. It looks like new again."
  • Unhelpful praise: "You are always so considerate."
  • Helpful praise: "I like the bookcase you made."
  • Unhelpful praise: "You are such a good carpenter."

Our descriptive praise and the teenager's positive inferences are building blocks of mental health. From our messages s/he concludes, on his/her own, "I am liked, I am appreciated. I am respected. I am capable." These conclusions s/he may restate silently to him/herself again and again. Such silent statements, repeated inwardly, determine largely a person's picture of themselves and of the world around them.

Abusive Praise

It is best not to mix criticism with praise. It is easier and less confusing to cope with honest praise, or honest criticism, than with a dishonest mixture of them both.


Father: "You are doing so well in all subjects, but you failed Spanish. There is no excuse for it. And, I won't stand for it. Keep up the good work, Son. You know I'm proud of you."

Offering two pieces of praise with blame in the middle is like offering a psychological sandwich to a confused child. Separate your intentions into two (or more) clear cut separate events.

Look For the Good

Often parents fall into patterns in which they find it easy to recognize the imperfections in their children. It becomes a habit to the extent that they silently expect the child to fail, or to act irresponsibly. These negative expectations are like dark undercurrents that weave their tapestry into the relationships we create with our children. Successful parenting requires the parent to see past these undercurrents, and break the cycle of negative expectations. Every child, regardless of how often they have disappointed the parent in the past, has positive and wonderful qualities (although they may be hidden) that the insightful parent can notice and encourage.

Children need to feel worthwhile to their parents. They need to feel that their parents approve of them and they need to believe that they are recognized for their positive attributes. When praising your child, be sincere. Find something positive about him that you can comment on and encourage. If you have already fallen into a cycle of negativity, this can be very difficult. But it is essential in your attempt to save your child, to restructure your relationship with him and to help him to feel worthwhile.

You may need to start small. Don't be afraid to praise a child for something he is "expected" to do. Let him know that you appreciate his efforts even when the job is not perfect or within the realm of your high standards. It is better to say, "I'm pleased that you made the effort to clean your room," than to pick at how sloppy it still looks.

Remember, Your child's self-esteem is an important factor in how well the two of you relate to one another. A child who is discouraged, whose self-esteem is less than optimal, will be more likely to rebel or to act out. Your efforts to provide a strong emotional foundation for your child will take effort and time, but the results are well worth the effort.

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