Parenting a Child Who Has Low Self-Esteem
Friday, September 25 2015 Emily Roberts MA, LPC
Parenting a child who has low self-esteem is tough. Many parents I talk to blame themselves, their child's peers and in many cases even the child (Empowering Kids to Deal With Bullies and Low Self-Esteem). The problem is that helping a teen or child who has low self-esteem is a puzzle, but there are some important pieces that can make a big change in their lives.
When a child has low self-esteem, it isn't the end of the world (although it may feel that way). It's actually an opportunity for the adults in their life to help them before these negative thinking patterns become hardwired. Self-esteem is the foundation of a child’s well-being and the key to healthy relationships, with themselves and others, as an adult. It is impossible for parents to be there every step of the way.
However, there are skills that can boost confidence and help your child develop healthy self-esteem. When parents use the right skills, it builds trust and communication, which are imperative to helping a child who has low self-esteem. But if parents use self-esteem tools that the child feels are invalidating, the opposite occurs.
Look at Your Childhood First to Help Your Child With Low Self-Esteem
Even if you are raising a teen, take a good look at the past, your past. We often bring our pasts and things we like (or didn't like) into the present. This can be a blessing or a curse for parents who have a child who has low self-esteem. Try this simple exercise to get clear:
- List the specific things your parents did or said to build your self-esteem.
- List the specific things your parents did or said weaken your self-esteem.
- Focus on how you want to make your child feel and what you don't want to bring from your childhood into theirs. Attempt to emulate the good things your parents did. If you find that you're following the patterns that weren't helpful to you, be gentle with yourself. Start to notice when you say things that are hurtful and apologize to your child (What Is Psychological Abuse Of A Child). This may take some humility but it helps to ensure they are seeing the parent you truly want to be.
4 Tips for Talking to a Child Who Has Low Self-Esteem
1. Humor and honesty. This means you’ve got to recognize and manage your own anxiety. Say she comes home and says "I hate my eyes!" You could reply with, “Hey don’t talk about my amazing daughter/son like that.” Catch them off guard with a little humor. You can also let them know that it’s okay to have negative emotions—in fact, it’s normal. "Sorry your feeling this way. I hate to see you take it out on yourself. Let’s work together to help you feel better." Add in your own experience of feeling like that as an adult to help them see that they are not alone (How To Use The Power Of Gratitude to Extinguish Negativity).
2. Ask, Don’t Assume. Assuming gets us in trouble—all of us. When we neglect to ask questions, it’s invalidating. Kids get mad, parents get resentful and it’s a mess. Although you may know exactly what happened or why he or she is feeling bad, allow them to explain how it feels to them. Try your best to validate instead of problem-solve and avoid asking questions.
3. Problem-solve, DON’T punish. Even if you know your daughter or son spent the better half of the evening online instead of studying for the test, when they bring home the failing grade, punishing them and pointing out the obvious only makes them feel bad about themselves and frustrated with you. Kids are smart; they know they should have done x, y or z differently. So if they come home sobbing or super frustrated, ask them what’s wrong, and bite your tongue when hearing them out.
4. Use compassion instead of criticism. Let's say your kiddo comes in with a low grade on the test you told them to study for. You know they didn't do a great job studying but avoid the urge to tell them "I told you so." They know that you are; they just aren't ready to admit it. Instead try, "That is the worst feeling honey I’m so sorry to hear that." This statement gets you a lot more connection with a child or teen (or anyone) rather than saying "you should’ve, could’ve or your grounded."
When you show compassion, you can help them problem solve for the future. There is a function to every behavior, and when you show them you're listening, the real problem often emerges. This is a golden moment for building self-esteem. Helping your child, and yourself, figure out why it was challenging for them to do homework or study helps you problem solve together. Maybe there was some drama at school that was consuming their mind, or the material was so difficult, they didn’t feel confident studying. This allows you both to feel relief and find a solution.
Don't forget to be compassionate with yourself too! Parenting is hard work. We are all human and some of the best lessons come from your children seeing how you correct your own behavior. Good luck!
Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are. You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.