Building Self Esteem in Children: The power of Parents

Written by on April 30, 2019

With Gilbert Mbewe      

A few years ago I was teaching Sunday school. In my class, was a young girl beautiful and a gifted singer but she was very shy, had no confidence in her talent, always sad and depended on her friends, she didn’t believe in herself.


Every time I asked her to sing or lead her friends to sing she would refuse or ask the friend to do it. I thought she was not maximising her gift and decided to talk to her. I came to realise that the girl actually loved singing so much but she had low self-esteem.

She was growing up with the idea that she was not good enough. This was because frequently she was told by her parents that she wasn’t good enough and she had developed a feeling and belief that she was not good enough.

Each time she tried to sing for her parent, she always received negative comments. This made her believe she wasn’t a good singer and had a terrible voice. The negative comments she received as a child caused her to have low self-esteem.

Reflection on this, I come to realise that parents are a powerful force in the development of one’s self-esteem. For example when parents repeatedly make a child feel bad about herself, it’s hard for a child not to see herself in a negative way.

The child will begin to have a pessimistic image of herself.  She will feel worthless and incapable of doing anything good. Parents certainly have a great influence on the self-esteem of their children. In early years of childhood our self concept, is very malleable and hugely dependant on the way in which we perceive other people’s reaction to what we do and say.

Hans Steiner a child and adolescent psychologist once said that ‘an infant coming into the world has no past, no experience in handling himself, no scale on which to judge his own worth. He must rely on the experiences he has with the people around him and the messages they give him about his worth as a person’.

Whatever we do as parents, even the smallest things such as gestures, smiles, frowns and silence influences our children’s development of self-esteem.

It is important for us parents to constantly and sincere appreciation our children and to make them feel special. When we appreciate our children we let them know that we are aware of how special, how unique and wonderful they are, this has an effect on their self-esteem. We need to appreciate them not based on comparison, but based on the intrinsic value and character. We need to always tell them how special they are to us.

Most parents tend to only talk with their children when they need to correct them in whatever they are doing wrong. This is not a good practice. Parents should take time to talk to their children about good things that they have done. Make sure that whatever you say is sincere and appropriate.

The caution here is that don’t over praise because just as anything else too much praises can bring out negative results. When you really need to comment on something bad, don’t be judgmental instead phrase your comment in a positive form.

As parents we need to be careful not to build our children’s self-esteem based on external things such as beauty, good clothes, the family’s financial position, achievements or status. External things can change with time. If our children’s base of self-worth is on external factors, then their self-worth will be tenuous and not genuine.

On other hand if they base their self-worth on their inherent qualities and uniqueness then it will be stronger, longer lasting and more valuable. It will stand the test of time. Instead of feeling defeated permanently when they experience loss or defeat, they will usually bounce back quicker and begin anew. As parents we have the responsibility to help our children see themselves through God’s eyes. They need to know that they were created in the image of God and as such they are worth.

Most of the time, when we try to define our children’s self-esteem, we fabricate a sense of self-esteem based on profession, religion, social status and achievements. On some level we tend to believe that these define our children’s self esteem, but this is only misdirection and confusion of self-worth. A search to discover our children’s self-worth anywhere other than in God will end in either short lived satisfaction or frustrating futility.

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