The Dangers of Trying to Nurture Self-Esteem

Okay, let’s get one thing on the table right up front: healthy self-esteem is a good thing for your child.

This is not an article suggesting that there are problems with the concept of having healthy self-esteem: instead, this is an article about the problems associated with parenting that is focused on the thought that your son or daughter needs to have their self-esteem nurtured or “built-up” by you.

First, let me review a couple of myths about self-esteem:

Myth number one: your kids will not develop healthy self-esteem unless you intentionally nurture it.

This simply isn’t true. A healthy sense of “self-esteem” is based upon how children “esteem” themselves. In other words, it’s something that comes from within….not something that comes from without. They learn to do this naturally, the order provided that they’re not exposed to harsh criticisms, overly vigilant parenting, or constant efforts to protect them from every moment of discomfort that they might experience.

Myth number two: You have to protect your kids from negative experiences for them to develop healthy self-esteem.

Think about how absurd this is. Discomfort and unpleasant experiences will be an inevitable part of your child’s future. However possible to learning to deal with these as an adult if they don’t have opportunities to work through these as a child?

It’s just like any other muscle. They have to be able to work the muscle of getting through their upsets, to know that they can handle future upsets.

You strip away their sense of self-confidence when you keep trying to protect them from these moments. You rob them of the opportunity to build an emotional muscle when you rescue them from their childhood pains.

Myth number three: You can build self-esteem with your words.

Let’s get real about this one for a moment. If parents could build a child’s self-esteem by using words, it’s very unlikely that there would even be a book on parenting, or that a self-help product on parenting ever sold a single copy.

Most well-intentioned parents offer their kids all sorts of positive statements and try to support their self-esteem. Yet, it rarely has its intended effect. For kids who are struggling with self-esteem issues, it often has a negative effect, as kids become more and more dependent on the feedback of their parents, rather than turning to their sense of self-confidence that comes from within.

Just remember it’s called “self-confidence” not “parent confidence.”

Myth number four: Harsh or critical parenting is not a factor in self-esteem development.

I have worked with dozens of parents who come to me to help their children gain a greater sense of self-confidence. Yet, many of these parents are harsh, critical, and constantly controlling and directing their kids. They simply can’t allow their children to have a moment to make a choice and experience the consequences of the choice. This overly controlling, or critical parenting style represents a constant threat to your child’s self-esteem. This is perhaps the most important factor to focus on if you want to ensure your child’s healthy development. Make a commitment to abolish your negative attitude and perspective, and your kids will have the opportunity to realize what an amazing, magical experience life can be and how wonderful it is to be their unique selves.

Myth number five: If you don’t do something, your self-esteem will suffer.

Let’s just check this for a moment. Do you have any data to support this? Is there any real research that would suggest that this conclusion is true?

I would suggest to you that there is very little data to support that that’s true.

Now don’t get me wrong. What you do will make a difference. It’s just that the way that you’re doing it will likely make things worse. When you approach the thought of your child’s self-esteem from a different angle, you’ll see that you can nurture healthy self-confidence but in a natural, relaxed and trusting manner.

So where does this lead you? It could lead you to the following place.

Consider dropping your story about your child’s self-esteem, and particularly dropping the idea that they should be this or they should be that. Celebrate who they are. Teach them to celebrate their uniqueness.

Rather than artificially trying to pump up their self-esteem, offer authentic comments of an occasional nature. Search your heart, and speak from your heart in a way that conveys your deepest truth. These will have much more of an impact.

Finally, make certain that you don’t rescue your kids from their discomforts and struggles. Step back, and allow them to get through those moments. Remember: This is the emotional muscle that will serve them in the future. If you don’t allow them to develop that muscle, they will find themselves in struggle after struggle, turning to others for input rather than trusting themselves.

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