The family is widely seen as an important influence on self-esteem because it is where the initial sense of oneself is formed. Children with self-esteem difficulties have absorbed what parents and others have negatively said about them. As they begin to define themselves in light of their low sense of self, they may undertake the view that they are different from their peers and siblings. Although at times children may not be aware that they are different, they know they feel awkward and inept when compared to others, particularly higher achieving siblings. The effects of low self-esteem can be reflected outward toward siblings and parents through verbal or physical expression. Their inner tension and shame can lead them to act out in various ways, ranging from emotional and physical withdrawal to aggressive and combative outward behaviors.
Children with low self-esteem appear hesitant and uncomfortable in the classroom. They tend to only answer direct questions and prefer to keep their opinions to themselves because they fear others’ reactions. Guarded behaviors and minimal interactions with other classmates lessen their social impact on others, which reinforces their belief of having nothing to offer others.
Children or individuals with low self-esteem hesitate when interacting with groups of neighborhood kids or joining social activities, such as parties or games. They generally wait to be invited to play or join others, but then only participate minimally when they agree to play. Their guardedness and self-doubt hold them back from fully interacting with others, again reinforcing their negative self-image.
Adolescence is the time of identity development, when relationships and school identities contribute in different ways. As adolescence proceeds, thoughts about relationships increase, prospects about college emerge, and thoughts formalize about occupational choices. One significant differentiating characteristic between childhood and adolescence lies within the realm of friends and peers. As the role of parents as primary caregivers starts to fade, peers begin to replace parents as the most important reference point in their lives.
Although many parents have negative reactions to the word “teenager,” parents must remember the major task for adolescents is to reevaluate who they are and how their bodies and identities have changed. They strive to establish final independence from their families and others their age to become their own person. They struggle to understand the meaning of life and how to interact with others of the opposite sex. They are faced with answering the question of how they want to spend the rest of their lives or if they are going to prepare for college or directly enter an occupation. How they see themselves strongly influences their options for their future. They strongly desire group acceptance more so than the middle years and become aware of their insecurities. Teenagers are faced with group pressures, such as conforming to group opinions in order to “fit in.” Withstanding some group pressures comes easier for adolescents who feel they are more adequate and worthier, which demonstrates their level of confidence in themselves. Parents must remember that intense rebellion and disrespect is not necessarily a part of adolescence, but a cry for independence. As parents prepare for their children to progress into adulthood and leave the home, they should be encouraged to see themselves first as individuals and second as parents, again reinforcing their sense of autonomy and self-esteem.
Symptom Checklist For Parents
- Does your child put himself down constantly?
- Does your child exert minimal effort toward tasks because he doubts he can be successful?
- Does your child act shy around others?
- Is your child overly dependent on you to take care of him?
- Does your child worry things will not work out?
- Is your child afraid to try new tasks?
- Does your child feel overwhelmed by school and life?
- Is your child pessimistic about the future?
- Does your child compare himself to others and feel inadequate?
- Would your child like to be someone else?
- Does your child constantly doubt he can achieve anything?
- Does your child take things out on others?
- Does your child lose his temper easily?
- Does your child constantly argue about trivial issues?
- Does your child think he is unimportant?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, your child is most likely experiencing self-esteem difficulties and would benefit from interventions targeted toward increasing his sense of self and outlook on life. Recommended interventions include utilizing professional services for individual or family counseling, group therapy, and parent workshops.
Teach children about decision-making and how to tell the difference between a bad decision and a good one. Let them “own” their problems. If they solve them, they gain confidence in themselves. If you solve them, they’ll remain dependent on you. It’s important to teach them to think for themselves. Take the time to answer questions. Help children think of alternative options, don’t give them alternative options.
Self-esteem refers to how children feel about themselves and expect to be accepted and valued by others who are important to them. Because it is important for them to feel accepted, a healthy sense of self is crucial for determining how they will approach life and interact with others. Self-esteem represents an individual’s need to belong and feel loved unconditionally; it is not just a happy positive idea about oneself, but rather a reflection of one’s character and self-respect. It is assessed by an individual’s ability to handle life situations and tasks and is interpreted by the individual from feedback received from others. For example, if children believe they are good readers, they will look for opportunities to improve and increase their reading skills; however, if they believe they have difficulties with reading, they will likely avoid tasks associated with reading and give up more easily when they are required to read.
Self-esteem has many aspects and develops within the context of a child’s evolving sense of identity and the ever-changing life tasks and challenges he or she faces. It is a lifelong developmental process whose roots are established in early childhood. A child’s sense of identity is developed through their view of acceptance, power, control, competence, and moral virtues. Children are active participants in their developing sense of self, which incorporates feedback received from parents, friends, siblings, teachers and classmates. Love, trust, autonomy, initiative, self-control, and the ability to interact socially all contribute to a lasting role in how children feel about themselves as individuals. They develop self-understanding and competence through their interactions with others, from which they construct a sense of self and personal value.
Teaching children well-developed coping skills and problem-solving techniques reinforce positive self-esteem by enabling them to think strategically and achieve personally desired goals.
Children with low self-esteem feel that important adults and peers in their lives have constantly judged them on their performances and successes. They generally feel unloved and only valued when they please their parents. Although all children have a need and desire for positive self-esteem, they either feel satisfied by the approval they receive from others or are frustrated and feel unloved as a result of their disapproval.
A parent’s role should reflect one of a coach who realizes the full implications of their efforts on the child’s developing sense of self and then acts accordingly to reinforce it. When they use overly exaggerated empty praise and cheers of well-intended support, they merely lend to teaching children to rely on others’ judgments and opinions instead of forming their own beliefs based on their experiences.
Low self-esteem also results from parents who only offer acceptance when a child completes a task or meets a standard; the child only feels worthwhile when the standard is met. Because these standards are conditional, a child’s sense of self is not positively reassured and may then fear attempting new tasks in the future.
Although increasing self-esteem in children has been thought of as a cure for misbehaving children, parents must be conscious of not offering inflated or inappropriate praise. Children who hear how great they are regardless of their behaviors receive confusing, conflicting messages; these messages may induce feelings of grandiosity in the child. Parents and teachers might think this will increase the child’s self-esteem but being overly lenient and passive only increases their inner conflict and decreases their overall self-esteem. Although the parents may be fearful of setting limits for children who might become frustrated and angry, being too permissive decreases a child’s personal sense of accomplishment and instills a false sense of self-importance.