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What To Do When Your Child Has Low Self Esteem

It's not easy for a parent to hear their child talk down about themselves. This Patch mom reached out to local parents for some tips on raising a childs self esteem.

Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council consisting of local Marple and Newtown parents, take your questions, give advice and share solutions.

Question:  A local mom reached out to me this week after having heard her child call themselves: "dumb, fat, stupid and slow." This is not all at one time, but instead at different times throughout the week. Homework, sports, gym class, friends–all had the kid in the dumps about themself. I reached out to local parents for advice for this mom, along with the rest of us who want our children to have good self esteem. 

How do you help lift your child's self esteem? What do you do when you hear your child call themselves "stupid," "slow," "dumb," or "fat," or not good enough at a sport. What can we as parents do to help them know they are awesome and actually believe us?

Answer from Roe McKernan-O'Brien (mom of 4): I always tell my kids stories of me growing up and difficult situations that I had. They love hearing these stories. I even pulled out my old grade school report cards and let them see how I did. Most of the times, where they are having trouble, so did I (neatness, handwriting, anxiety/self doubt when starting a new concept). I try to let them know that everyone has the same trouble and that they can get through them.

Answer from Chris G. (dad of 1): It's a commitment you have to be 100 percent behind. My son is a perfectionist and can be very hard on himself. I always tell him the same thing: "so long as you try your hardest, you have nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of outcome." I am also very careful choosing my words when he makes a mistake. I'll say, "That wasn't a good decision" or "That was a big mistake, but what matters is that you learn from it." Never, ever "dumb" or "stupid." Likewise, I never let him get too full of himself either. I try to get him to understand that nobody is perfect, and that nobody is good at everything. I hope he is learning that concept for his benefit as well as the benefit of others. Kids learn to call themselves stupid, it's not innate in them. They hear it from other kids, other parents, and even their own parents in a moment of weakness.

Being a coach as well, I'm very sensitive to pushing kids too hard and making them feel inadequate. We make a very big deal over effort and attention, not performance. In sports sometimes you have it or you don't, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't enjoy being part of a team. We see parents pushing their kids too hard all the time, even other coaches with their kids. Pushing a child to be their best is one thing. Pushing them to be something you want them to be is something completely different, and very, very sad.

Answer from Kelly B. (mom of 2): My son has always been afraid to join a sport, worrying that he wasn't going to be good enough or that he would let his team down. We strongly encouraged him to play baseball this year, but let it be his decision. He decided to join, and we are hoping that through this his self esteem will improve. As much as we tell him just to "have fun," and that "as long as he does his best, we are proud of him," I think seeing that everyone makes mistakes and that he gets the praise for just trying will be what it takes to boost his confidence. We'll see how it goes. I am proud of him just for making the decision to do what he's been so afraid of doing in the past.

Answer from Maureen P. (mom of 2): Focus on what they're good at, and remind them of times when they've excelled, or had to learn to do something that seemed hard at first. It can be especially challenging for younger siblings whose older brothers and sisters are great at something to know that they're great too for their age group. They might not yet be as fast but some of those younger kids try really hard and turn out even faster. There's a great book called Outliers that my 16-year-old read as summer reading last year. It shows many examples of people who became great, through a combination of innate talent, being in the right place at the right time/luck, and then hard work and lots of it. All those athletes on TV didn't start out great–they worked at it!

Jennifer Kim April 17, 2012 at 06:10 PM
This is a tough issue--anyone have any other suggestions to help boost your child's self esteem?
Colleen April 17, 2012 at 07:25 PM
All of the comments by the above parents are great! I used to have a list of 'no' words when my kids were younger, included were the words dumb, stupid, among others. They were not to be used either against/about someone or about themselves. Now, when these words do come out, I ask why they say it. There is usually a specific incident that you can provide further insight into. Lastly, I make light of times when I make a mistake, proving I'm not perfect either. Teach by example right?

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