Self-esteem can be defined as confidence in your own worth and abilities. Self-esteem in our children is an important aspect of life that needs to be cultivated properly. As a parent, your goal is to help your child develop a healthy self-esteem they can carry with them into their adulthood. Poor self-esteem in children can have far-reaching consequences. Find out more below.
Self-esteem will determine how your child views themselves, how they interact with the world, and how they define their purpose in life. A healthy self-esteem leads to healthy relationships, behaviors and thought patterns; on the other hand, an unhealthy self-esteem will affect your child’s view of their self-worth and their abilities potentially preventing them from reaching their full potential.
To help cultivate a healthy self-esteem in your child, knowing what causes poor self-esteem will help you to evaluate your family interactions with your child. From here, you will have a clearer idea of how to adjust your family response and interactions to your child in order to improve their self-confidence.
Potential causes for poor self-esteem
Although pinpointing the causes of poor self-esteem for children and people, in general, can be tricky, we can look at some of the generally known causes of poor self-esteem:
1 Critical or disapproving authority figures
Consistent criticism, correction, and disapproval from authority figures such as parents, guardians, teachers, etc., serve to send children the message that what they do and who they are is not good enough. A consistent sense of failing begins to permeate a child’s view of themselves accompanied by the conviction that they don’t measure up.
This also brings with it shame. Children begin to feel ashamed of themselves and their best efforts. They compare themselves to others or are compared to others further exacerbating their shame as failures.
2 Uninvolved or negligent parents
A variety of reasons can arise for parents to become uninvolved or negligent in their interactions with their children. Some of these reasons may include mental health issues, substance abuse issues, or stressful, chaotic circumstances. While some of these are unintentional, the impact on a child’s self-esteem can be quite large.
Self-esteem drives us to pursue a rich and full life. When children grow up in an environment where their achievements and efforts are unnoticed their self-esteem drops. Such children hear the messages: you’re not worth noticing or no one cares about where you are or what you do. The result is often people and children feeling they have to apologize for who they are.
3 Unrealistic goals
Whether it’s themselves, teachers, or parents, unrealistic goals are damaging to a child’s self-esteem. Often a child will begin to look down on themselves for not measuring up to the expectations they believe are on them. A great sense of failure begins to develop in a child’s mind pulling down their self-esteem.
4 Parental response to bullying
Bullying on its own causes a lot of harm to a child’s self-esteem. Couple this with the parental response and your child will either recover with a healthy self-esteem or develop a lower one. Parents who are unsupportive towards their child suffering from bullying have a higher chance of seeing their child’s self-esteem plummet. Their child will begin to encounter a deep sense of abandonment, hopelessness, loss, self-loathing, and mistrust. Instead of seeing themselves as worthy, they will see themselves as defective and pitied.
On the other hand, parents who are overly supportive of their child being bullied will also encounter self-esteem issues. These issues include a child feeling unprepared to engage in the world. Another issue is that of deep-seated shame in which the child feels that their mistakes taint their parents’ view of who they are. Thus, their mistakes are exacerbated and if the parents find out they’d be crushed. For this child, the view of themselves that the world has vs their parents seems out of balance and confusing.
5 Body image
Media definition of a healthy body image is highly misleading. This causes many young girls to develop unhealthy views of what their body should look like thus leading them towards poor eating habits, eating disorders, etc.
For boys, the same applies. The only difference is that boys will want to develop a greater muscle tone thus they may partake of supplements, steroids, and so on. Thus imperfections become frowned upon further aggravating poor self-esteem.
Helping your child develop good self-esteem
Cultivating healthy self-esteem in your child is possible and doable. Some of these methods may mean allowing your child to experience a measure of discomfort but the end result will be rewarding:
1 Chores, chores, and more chores
Allow your child to participate in age-appropriate chores. This will vary on the age of your child. Children as young as two-years can participate in chores by picking up their toys, cleaning up their spills on the floor or fetching a cup for their drink. Chores teach children to take pride in their home and take responsibility for their things.
2 Ample choices
Choices are one of the best self-esteem boosters a child can have. Choices allow a child to experience a level of control in their world. Children should be given age appropriate choices such as the clothes that they want to wear, the beverage they’d like to drink when they are thirsty, etc. As a parent offer your child choices among options that you are ok with. For example, Johnny, you can choose between the red cup or the blue cup for your juice.
3 Quality time
Spend one-on-one time with your child. This will give you the opportunity to show them that they are important to you and that you care about what is going on in their life. Take time to spend with your child doing things that they enjoy and talking.
4 Offer sincere praise
Be careful of vague and frequent praise. When praising your kid be sure to point out what they did that you enjoyed. For example, Terry I love how you added the thumbs up to your Captain America drawing.
Make sure that your praise is sincere.
5 Taking risks
Children don’t always need their parents swooping in to save the day. They need to have opportunities to try something new even if it ends up in a mess. The mess or mistake itself can be a great teaching opportunity on how to clean up one’s messes. Sometimes failure and mistakes can be the best teachers and boosters of self-confidence.
For example, a child learns how to ride a bike by themselves by taking the bike, wobbly knees and all, and trying to ride it. Yes, the child most probably will fall and scrape their knees. That’s ok. They need your encouragement to get back on and try again. Eventually, they learn they can do it all by themselves.
Lachmann, Susan, Ph.D. 2013. 10 Sources of Low Self-Esteem. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/me-we/201312/10-sources-low-self-esteem
LaTour, Amée. 2014. 8 Common causes of low self-esteem: Taking charge of your own worth. Good Choices Good Life. http://www.goodchoicesgoodlife.org/choices-for-young-people/boosting-self-esteem/
Myers, Randi Chapnik. 2016. 11 Ways to help your kid build self-esteem. Today’s Parent. http://www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/how-to-build-your-childs-self-esteem/
Finello, Kristen. Simple Ways to Boost Your Child’s Self-Esteem. Parents.com http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/social/boost-your-childs-self-esteem/