Self-esteem is central to everything in a person’s life. Also known as self-value or self-respect, self-esteem refers to the way we see ourselves, which shapes our behaviors and decisions. Having strong self-esteem encourages us to push through challenges, try new things, and believe in ourselves.
As parents, we try our best to foster positive self-esteem in our children. Yet we sometimes make mistakes when it comes to what to say and how that impacts our children’s self-esteem. We are, after all, only human.
We need to be mindful that those mistakes we make in how we relate to our children and teens don’t negatively affect them. As I wrote in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, to avoid these mistakes, we first need to know what they are.
Here are four examples of self-esteem-sapping parental behaviors.
1. Yelling And Hitting
Nothing lowers self-worth like yelling and hitting. When you yell and hit, you show poor impulse control delivered through a temper tantrum with the goal of disempowering your child. What kind of life lesson is that to teach?
To be sure, most of us have yelled. I have yelled at my kids and even grabbed them in a few past isolated incidents. I am not proud of this, and I encourage you to realize, as I did, that we are bullying our children when we yell at or hit them.
While it may feel as if you have succeeded in getting them to stop their offensive behaviors, it’s a short-term fix, and you’ve really just succeeded in making them feel diminished. Yelling and hitting from parents interferes with your child being able to have a constructive conversation to problem-solve, work through conflicts, and build self-esteem.
2. Dwelling On Past Conflicts
Once a problem or conflict is resolved, don’t keep mentioning it. Children should be allowed to start over with a clean slate. Parents who bring up children’s past mistakes are teaching them to hold grudges for long periods of time.
Also, children need to know that once a matter is settled, it becomes part of the past. The more a child can be reinforced for their positive behaviors and choices going forward, the better they will feel about themselves. And they will naturally be less likely to repeat poor past choices for negative attention.
3. Injecting Guilt
It’s one thing to ask a child how they would feel if they were in your shoes or someone else’s in a given situation. Too often, however, parents push this to the limit and try to make their children feel guilty because of their thoughts, feelings, or actions. Parents who use guilt to control their children run the risk of alienating them.
A client of mine whom I’ll call Loretta used to sling loads of guilt at her 14-year-old son, Harold, whom her neighbor found vaping marijuana. For 10 straight minutes, Loretta peppered Harold with statements like, “How embarrassed do you think I feel now that the neighbors know our problems?” and “Don’t you realize how you have ruined my trust in you?” In response to these guilt-slinging comments from Loretta, Harold just became agitated and stormed out.
I subsequently coached Loretta to put her wounded ego aside and give her son what he really needed: support and understanding. Loretta used a calm, firm, and non-controlling approach to get Harold to open up to her about how he caved into peer pressure. They reconnected, and Harold soon abandoned his problematic peer group along with his interest in vaping.