Raising children is very challenging. It is
one of the toughest jobs in the world. Our children are born
and suddenly we are thrust into the great adventure and challenge
of rearing them. Since no one trains us how to do it,
most of us fly by the seat of our pants in doing so, filled with
great intentions and expectations. We love our children with a
depth that is unfathomable. We do all we can for them. However,
even with the deepest love and best of intentions, we invariably
blunder and make mistakes along the way. Yet, we all
desire children who grow to be adults filled with self-esteem,
and who live a fulfilling life.
Self-esteem is the feeling we have regarding our own intrinsic
self value. A person imbued with self-esteem experiences
a sense of worthiness, competence, confidence, lovability
and naturally expects positive regard from others. They believe
in themselves and in what they have to offer.
Those suffering from low self-esteem view themselves in a
negative light. They often feel they lack valuable attributes and
experience the emotions of shame, defeat, and inadequacy.
They are unsure of their contributions and generally live unfulfilled
lives. A person may feel good about themselves in one
area, such as in their musical abilities, but they may feel lacking
in others ways, such as their social skills. That is not a lack
of self-esteem, which is a more foundational attitude about
one’s self that is beyond any attributes or traits. People with
high self-esteem can accept that they are good in some things
and not in others. They can withstand situations of failure or
adversity and move on without feeling defeated because their
basic sense of self is positive and strong. That is how we want
our children to be.
Our children’s self-esteem first develops during childhood
in direct relation to how we genuinely feel about them and how
we interact with them. Children are innocent, unformed, open
and susceptible to the impressions of the world around them.
We, as their primary role models are the most powerful influences
in shaping their self-esteem. Every day and in countless
ways our children take in, imitate and react to our interactions
with them and in doing so their sense of self is formed. A child
given love and praise internalizes that love and feels worthwhile.
A child who is criticized and treated impatiently will feel
that they are inherently bad. A child who is treated angrily will
become fearful and lack confidence. A child of a depressed parent
might feel it is their fault that the parent is not happy and
end up feeling inadequate.
Our children absorb us deeply and develop self images,
based on how we treat them, that become imprinted in their
psyches for their lifetime. These imprints become the emotional
blueprint of patterns of behavior that will be repeated
well into their adulthood. For example, the child who felt inadequate
around their parent’s depression might find a depressed
mate in which their sense of inadequacy lives on. The child
who was overly criticized can internalize the critical parent and
feel that they never measure up. Or, they might imitate their
parent and become critical of their own children or, involve
themselves in relationships where they are criticized. The child
who is emotionally supported and loved will grow into a loving
adult who finds mutually nurturing and loving relationships
that care for him as his parents did.
Although, much of what transpires between a parent and
child is not conscious, there are three important things to keep
in mind in order to raise your child with self-esteem:
Children need your love in order to feel worthwhile; it is the basic
building block of self-esteem. Your love is a unique energy
that emanates from your being into your children, nourishing
them. Babies thrive on it and when it is not present they wither
and become incapable of bonding with others. Your child
needs love, intimacy and connection with you in order to develop
self-esteem, which does not come from just feeding and
clothing them. Building self-esteem is something that requires
your action, energy and conscious intent.
Unfortunately, modern life (and its stresses) does not facilitate
bonding with our children. Often, two tired parents come
home from work, rush to get dinner on the table and then everyone
retreats into their own space. Kids are on their computers,
video chatting and texting. Parents are either relaxing in front
of the TV, on their own computers or catching up on chores.
What is missing is the connected feeling of sharing and doing
things together with your child. If your child does not bond
with you daily in a solid way, he or she may fill the emotional
void with friends, television, magazines, the Internet and the
current culture, all of which is transient, fleeting and does not
provide the solid foundation needed for self-esteem.
Showing love means being present for your child, fully
paying undivided attention to them and not becoming distracted
with other things. Your child will intuitively sense your
presence and feel secure. Even a stay-at-home mom who is
self-involved or preoccupied will not impart secure feelings to
Presence is attention that includes care, time and unconditional
love. An important way to be present is to initiate conversations
with your child and take in what they say. Ask them
about how they felt about what happened during their day so they can express their emotions. If something upset them
don’t belittle them or make it okay by saying such things as,
“Don’t be upset about Jeff teasing you. Remember ‘sticks and
stones etc….’” Denying their feelings will make your child’s
self-esteem diminish. Acknowledge them instead by saying
such things as, “of course it hurt your feelings when Jeff teased
Here is an Eidetic Image exercise you can do to see how your
child feels about himself. An Eidetic Image is a visual picture
stored in the brain of all of your life experiences. It reproduces
life events with clarity and exact detail and information that is
not consciously available is revealed. Eidetic Imagery was first
developed by Dr. Akhter Ahsen, the leading theoretician of the
School of Eidetic Image psychology.
Begin the exercise by seeing your child in your mind’s eye
wherever the image spontaneously takes you. You may keep your
eyes open or closed and allow the information to come to you.
- See your child somewhere in your house.
- Where is he/she?
- What is your child doing?
- Notice his/her mood, actions. What do you see?
- How do you feel as you see them?
- Look into your child’s eyes. There is a feeling or story there.
- What do you see?
- Is there anything you spontaneously feel like doing?
Pamela, mother of a six-year-old boy, visualized her son in the
family room watching TV. Upon closer examination, she saw
him as feeling very sad and withdrawn. She said, “I see that
something is worrying him or he is feeling badly. He had wanted
something and he was told no. He has his head down and is
sad. He feels like he has not been heard and that his dad and I
don’t understand him. I feel very sad for him and want to hug
him to make him feel better. I did not know he felt misunderstood.”
When looking into his eyes, she said, “He feels that we are
always so busy or distracted. We don’t know he is around or
we don’t see him. His heart feels heavy. I see that he needs to
share. He needs to talk to express himself, there is much to give
and much to say within him and he does not feel that he has the
chance or that anyone will take the time to really listen to him.
I see that he needs people to listen and talk to him. He needs a
stronger sense of bonding.”
Once their feelings are validated, you can help your child
devise useful strategies to solve their problems, and in doing
so their willingness to share more things with you grows.
Share stories about your own childhood and things that you
did while growing up. Your stories enrich them as they learn
valuable lessons from your experiences. When you are present
for your child, he or she feels important and that you care; and
this is fundamental to their esteem.
Praise Your Children
We often get caught up in repeatedly telling our children what
not to do and point out their negative behaviors. “Don’t pick
fights with your brother” or “How many times do I have to ask
you to feed the dog?” Too much focus on their negative conduct
creates a harmful self-image in your child. Try to tell them
to do things in a more positive manner.
For example, “Your brother looks up to you. He wants to be
just like you. I know you can teach him how to share”. Instead of
yelling to feed the dog, tell your child, “I need you to feed the dog
right now. I so appreciate your help.” Being positive encourages
more willing cooperation and raises self-esteem.
Praise your child for what you observe to be their authentic
positive qualities. In this manner, your child will recognize his
or her own unique abilities and they will feel good about themselves.
Employ comments such as, “You are very kind. I see how
you treat your baby brother with such love”; that allows your
child to recognize their inherent lovability. Or, “You have a keen
eye. I love the colors you picked for your drawing”, makes your
child realize they have creative and perceptual gifts. False praise
such as, “You are as good an actor as anyone trying out for the
school play” when they are not, will make your child distrust you.
They know when you are being disingenuous; and false compliments
will only make their sense of inadequacy stronger.
Discipline is necessary for children to learn acceptable behaviors,
cooperation with others, and self control. Too much or
too little discipline is experienced as a loss by your child and
injures their self-esteem. Too much discipline can make your
child feel over-controlled, leading to anger, rebellion and suppression
of their natural expressions. With minimal discipline
your child will not learn proper ways to interact with others and
can suffer from a loss of absorbing important life values. Parents
who establish limits give their child a feeling of security,
which enhances their self-esteem. Your child might test the
limits you establish with them, but they do need those limits
to grow into responsible adults.
Establishing behavioral rules helps kids understand your
expectations and develop self-control. Setting limits makes
them feel safe. Some of your rules might be: no texting or TV
until homework is done, and no name-calling, hitting or teasing.
Help with chores is also part of teaching your child discipline
and you can establish these according to their age. For
example, young children can help clear the table while older
children can take the garbage out.