Building Your Child's Self-Esteem
By Douglas Cowan, Psy.D.
According to researchers, most children enter school with a good
sense of self-esteem (at least as defined by psychologists) and yet
leave high school with a poor sense of self-esteem. What happens in
those years between starting school and finishing school?
If we are to define self-esteem as "having feelings of worth or
value," then people with adequate levels of self-esteem should
display a sense of realistic confidence in their abilities and
performance. People with low levels of self-esteem would be expected
to display feelings of inadequacy, a fear of failure, a sense of
being unworthy, and perhaps depression.
It is estimated that 25-35% of children have Learning Disabilities.
At least 5% have Attention Disorders. All too many times during the
course of their academic careers these children are labeled by
teachers (or parents) as being "lazy," or "stupid." Remarks of this
type are typically interpreted by the child as, "You're no good,"
and the self-esteem levels drop.
At least 50% of children will experience the divorce of their
parents prior to turning 18 years old. Most children, for whatever
reasons too complicated to go into here, will tend to place at least
a portion of the blame for the parent's divorce on themselves. Since
the parents are typically placed on a pedestal in the eyes of the
child, the blame for the divorce cannot be placed on the parents and
must be placed elsewhere, most commonly on themselves. This also
significantly impacts children's self-esteem levels.
There are other important challenges to maintaining reasonable
self-esteem, such as merely being "average" in a world that worships
only the good looking, the good athletes, and the well-to-do.
Can too much Self-Esteem be bad for you?
Let me say here and now that inappropriately high levels of
self-esteem may be worse that low levels. Levels of self-esteem that
are too high lead kids to believe that they are more important than
anyone else, and that they should never be frustrated by work or
challenges in life. It leads young people to believe that they
should always have their way. Inflated levels of self-esteem
ultimately discourages children and teens from learning how to work
hard, and sometimes leads into criminal behavior. Anti-social and
criminal behavior is fueled by the criminal believing that his wants
and needs are more important than the needs, wants, or rights of
Inflated levels of self-esteem also are directly at odds with the
development of one's spirituality and relationship with God. After
all, who needs to develop a relationship with God when he believes
that he is more important, or intelligent, or more powerful than
God? People are cheated in every important aspect of their lives,
emotionally, socially, and spiritually, when their sense of
self-esteem is inflated.
So how can we instill appropriate levels of self-esteem in our
children? Briefly, here are five key thoughts ...
First, change the way that you look at this area of life from
"self-esteem" to "self-confidence." There is a difference as wide as
the sea. To "esteem" someone, including one's self, involves
feelings of "reverence" or "awe" or "honor" or "glory." Words have
meaning. Let's not get carried away with trying to make our kids
feel good about themselves by starting to ascribe to them positions
of honor normally reserved for Presidents and Kings, and perhaps for
God. The majority of our society's problems are caused by people
thinking that they are more important than anyone else in the world.
This is not something that we really want to encourage in our
children, or in ourselves.
Instead we do want to encourage self-confidence. This attribute
becomes especially powerful and beautiful when paired with the
virtue of self-control. Raise your children to have these two
character traits, and you will have wonderful and successful
Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a family therapist who has been working with ADHD children and their families since 1986.
He is the clinical director of the ADHD Information Library's family of seven web sites, including
http://www.newideas.net, helping over 350,000 parents and teachers learn more about ADHD each year. Dr. Cowan also
serves on the Medical Advisory Board of VAXA International of Tampa, FL., is President of the Board of Directors for
KAXL 88.3 FM in central California, and is President of NewIdeas.net Incorporated.