Ten Ways Parents Destroy Their Children's Self-Esteem
How to Destroy a Child's Precious Sense of Being
Parents want to believe that they are doing a particular deed or applying a specific disciplinary methodology for the child's own good. They also tell themselves that the child will appreciate this one day and assert that if they did not care, they would not be applying such corrective measures.
However, many use discipline and corrective measures in ways that irreparably damage or negatively impact a child's self-esteem. Many parents believe that they are only guiding and helping their child when in fact, they are causing harm instead. There is an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Here are the ten things parents do that can destroy their children's self-esteem.
How Parents Hurt Their Child's Self-Esteem
- Comparing Children to Siblings or Other Children
- Criticizing a Child's Innate Abilities, Temperament, or Characteristics
- Requiring Conformity
- Continuously Harping About Mistakes
- Teaching That a Child's Dreams, Aspirations, and Goals Are Impossible to Reach
- Living Their Kid's Lives and Planning Their Careers
- Evaluating a Child's Intellectual Capacity upon Grade Point Average
- Zeroing in on So-Called Negative Characteristics
- Never Praising
- Demanding Blind Obedience
1. Comparing Children to Siblings or Other Children
Parents often believe that if they extol the positive characteristics of siblings and other children to their so-called errant child, their own child will improve. Often, the comparison does the opposite. Those who are constantly compared to others have a diminished sense of individuality and ultimately come to believe that they are worthless.
Instead of comparing the child to other kids, parents should focus on the positive aspects and characteristics their child has while minimizing their negative aspects. Build up rather than tear down is a good strategy to employ. Children are still developing and they require a lot of positive attention and care, comparing them to others is not the correct way to go about it.
2. Criticizing a Child's Innate Abilities, Temperament, or Characteristics
Many parents are threatened and nonplussed if their children's abilities and characteristics are different from their own. These people are firm believers that their offspring should be carbon copies of them with similar characteristics, interests, and goals. They feel that if their children are just like them, everything will be harmonious and stress-free. Those whose characteristics are different from the parents' are viewed as a threat to the familial, social order.
Those who criticize their diametrically different children's innate abilities and characteristics are often invalidating their children's innermost psychological core. These children often feel insignificant and totally unappreciated.
Parents should strive to take their own egos out of the equation and instead focus on what the child needs. Just because a child does not have the same characteristics as their parents does not mean they are a failure that needs correcting. A good strategy is to encourage children to develop their own personality and voice.
3. Requiring Conformity
Many parents staunchly believe in blind and mindless conformity. They are of the belief that there is safety in following the prevailing and/or majority opinion. They contend that following the consensus offers a sense of belonging and security. They insist that it is safest to conform to the prevailing philosophy and strongly discourage their children's individualism and nonconformity because they think that if their children refuse to conform to the prevailing groupthink, they will be considered oddballs or worse, be ostracized and left alone, or the parents themselves will be ostracized and denigrated by their neighbors and associates.
So if a young one dares to have a unique, creative, and innovative thought or idea, it is squashed and often labeled as outlandish and weird because nobody else thought of it! These parents are totally soul-destroying and killing the dreams of a potential Picasso, Einstein, Mozart, and/or free thinker.
Conformity is a necessary thing in certain cases but parents should work on helping their child develop their unique talents while respecting the norms of society. Parents should encourage their children to think outside the box and be creative.
4. Continuously Harping About Mistakes
Making mistakes is an integral part of a child's learning and growth process. Childhood is a time to freely explore, try on different personas, and fall on your face. However, there are parents who equate mistakes with grave mortal sins. They often have insanely unrealistic expectations that their offspring must be as perfect and blemish-free as possible. God forbid that they should make mistakes. Making mistakes = ineptitude + utter stupidity. They want their kids to be perfect because perfection = success.
Well, continuous harping about mistakes to a child is tantamount to abuse. This child begins to lose what sense of initiative and risk-taking that they have and thus they become extremely anxious and risk-aversive, often not electing to attempt anything for fear of failure. They will always choose the path of the least resistance all through life.
Teaching your child to accept mistakes and failures positively is a good way to go about things. There is a great deal of value in recognizing when you make a mistake and then correcting it. There is no need to take a negative tone when speaking to a child about the mistakes they have made. Preach a positive mental approach to dealing with failures and mistakes.
5. Teaching That a Child's Dreams, Aspirations, and Goals Are Impossible to Reach
There are individuals who aspire to uncommon goals and unique careers. Many parents refuse to acknowledge this. Often, they consider their offspring's goals "unrealistic" and "lofty." They often attempt to gear their children into "more realistic" careers and aspirations, ones that are "workable" and "secure." Well, some individuals have goals and aspirations which are dramatically different and rare. They should be encouraged. Often these kids do end up settling for ordinary and safe careers, much to their regret. They are grossly unhappy, yearning for what might have been.
Instead, parents should encourage their children to pursue their dreams and let them figure out if their dreams and goals are reachable or impossible. Help the child develop a winning attitude and approach to goal setting and see what happens. While some dreams are not based in reality and are unlikely to happen, the commitment to a positive approach to accomplishing tasks is a critical skill for a child to learn. Teach them to enjoy the process and love the commitment it takes to accomplish their dreams.
6. Living Their Kid's Lives and Planning Their Careers
There are parents who believe that they know what is best for their children. They plan their children's life from birth to marriage to career and beyond. They believe that they are making their kids' lives easier and less stressful. However, they are doing irreparable damage and making their kids quite dependent and indecisive regarding the simplest life choices. Many people are living their parents' lives, not their own authentic lives, much to their regret.
Again, parents need to check their egos and loosen up a bit. Being an overbearing parent leads to pushback from the child and is not worth it in the long run. Set some boundaries and steer your child in a direction you'd like to see them go in but let them have some independence. Support the choices they make and the lifestyles they want to live.
7. Evaluating a Child's Intellectual Capacity Based on Their GPA
Many parents base all their expectations on the grade point average of a child. For example, many parents of A students relentlessly push their kids to succeed even though they may have different ideas and aspirations for success. Conversely, many parents of C students believe that their kids are less than apt and intelligent, telling them to aspire lower as they are not ever going to be successful.
A child's GPA is not always an accurate reflection of their innate intellectual capacity. An extremely conscientious A student of average ability may have to study all night to obtain those A's while a C student of above-average ability may be bored with school and have a more relaxed attitude towards their studies. To pigeonhole anyone's intellectual ability based entirely upon their GPA often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the child believes that they are stupid because they are a C student, they will become a low achiever throughout life, no matter what their human potential is.
Obsessing over a child's grades and making that the determining factor for your happiness as a parent is a bad decision. Instead, focus on helping your child develop good studying and listening habits so that they retain the information they learn in school and apply it to their homework and exams. Give them help if they need it and don't put undue pressure on them to get good grades at all costs.
8. Zeroing in on So-Called Negative Characteristics
Many parents want their kids to be as physically and emotionally flawless as possible. They often view their children's physical and emotional differences as imperfections to be corrected and/or changed and may denigrate their children in order to make them shape up. However, this has the opposite effect and gives the child a permanently poor body and self-image.
Focus on building your child up and preaching positivity. Instead of pointing out their flaws, help them develop their positive characteristics. Teach your child that no one is flawless and that everyone makes mistakes.
9. Never Praising
There are parents who do not believe in praising because they believe that it softens and spoils kids and will make them conceited and think too highly of themselves. These parents maintain that they should never have to praise their offspring for things such as having good behavior, doing chores without being asked, or earning good grades. They assert that such behavior should be a given.
Children need praise in order to assess the positivity of their performance and to continue with such behavior. If they do not receive praise, oftentimes they will not achieve what they might have.
Reinforce positive behavior and lift your child up when they do something well. Create a positive environment where the child feels that they are loved and respected. Don't praise them for every little thing they do right, but develop a pattern of praise based on their accomplishments. Doing this will allow the child to develop competence and a positive sense of self.
10. Demanding Blind Obedience
There are some parents who believe that their word is law and etched in stone, and that might equals right. These parents contend that they own their offspring. They do not view their kids as thinking, independent, autonomous individuals in their own right but instead as automatons and pieces of property that they can dictate and program at will. For them, the mantra is that their children are to obey and nothing else. They want kids who they can easily control, and they are highly threatened by those who exhibit a more independent nature.
Anyone raised by authoritarians like this becomes timid and submissive. They also become passive, believing that they do not count. They feel powerless and that others are more powerful than they are.
Instead, parents should encourage their children to develop a sense of independence and respect their authority at the same time. Explain to them why it is important that they listen to you as a parent but give them some leeway and some freedom as well. Smothering your child will lead to resentment later in life, and it is not a healthy way to raise children.
Ways to Improve a Child's Self-Esteem
There are many ways a parent can help improve their child's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Here are a few:
- Give them choices: Give your child multiple options and let them choose what they want. Start small, such as giving them a choice between three different breakfast options. Doing this will foster a sense of self in your child and give them confidence in making decisions.
- Don't do everything for them: Give your child more responsibilities as they grow and let them make their own decisions. While helping your child get dressed may make it quicker to get out of the house in the morning, allowing your child to pick out their own clothes and dress themselves fosters a sense of independence.
- Let them know no one is perfect: Set realistic standards and expectations for your child but constantly remind them that failing and making mistakes is part of life. Encourage them to take risks and make mistakes but try to not punish them for messing up.
- Give them age-appropriate chores: Giving your child a set of chores to do around the house is a great way to help them develop discipline and good working habits. Make sure you give your child an appropriate task to do and not something that is out of their mental or physical capacities.
- Give them unconditional love: Always make sure that no matter what, your child knows that you love them, even when they fail and make bad decisions. Many parents focus on performance, which will make your child think that you will only love them if they get good grades or do well at sports.
- Encourage them to take risks: While you have to be careful and cautious with allowing your child to take risks, encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and try something new. Don't encourage wild and dangerous behavior, give them ideas and ways they can work on their skills that are just outside their reach.
My Parents Destroyed My Self-Esteem, What Do I Do?
Unfortunately, many of us had parents who were critical of us and ruined our self-esteem from an early age. This led to a stunted emotional development and made it hard to have a normal level of self-esteem.
If you're trying to get your self-confidence and self-esteem levels up after years of living with critical parents, here are some steps you can follow.
- Talk back to your critical voice: Many people with low self-esteem struggle with a negative inner voice that criticizes their actions. The first step to battling this voice is to talk back to it. Remain positive and confident in your actions and talk back to the voice in your head that is doubting you.
- Understand why your parents treated you poorly: Your parents are not perfect people either, and the reason why they always said negative things to you and ruined your self-esteem was due to their own faults and shortcomings. It was not your fault; you are not responsible for how your parents treated you. Coming to terms with this and moving on from it are two other additional steps you can take.
- Positive self-talk: Bring yourself up by talking positively: put an upbeat spin on your life and how you react to certain situations. Having a positive mental attitude is the best way to go about it.
Correction and discipline are meant to improve and enhance a child's sense of self and help a child become self-disciplined, self-motivated, and self-determined. Correction and discipline are not meant to demoralize children and to make them feel less than what they are.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
If you know that your father was from a family of people who homicidally hounded family members to suicide by crushing their self-esteem, is it normal to continue hating such a person until old age? (I am seventy-four.)
No, but I suggest that you obtain psychiatric counselling and disassociate yourself from your father. This man & his family are toxic. It is best for you to disassociate from him & his family.Helpful 27
Why does my father point out all my flaws?
Your father is an abusive parent. Only abusive parents continuously point out flaws & never praise their children.Helpful 26
Why did my dad always make me feel like I'm dependent, that I need help with money, and that I can't do anything without him? How should I react here? It's hurting my dignity.
Your father would be classified as an overprotective parent. Yes, overprotective parents are abusive parents although such parents present a "loving" façade. Your father is making you dependent as an exercise of his power. Your father is insecure as he is threatened by your independence. Your father wants you to be subordinate to him in order to elevate his low self-esteem. You should first discuss this matter to your father; however, if he isn't receptive, discuss the matter w/a trusted relative or better yet, a counselor. If you are old enough, implement ways to move away from your father. With toxic parents, children are better off away such "parents".Helpful 8
My mom only cares about my grades more than me and is a control freak. WHat should I do?
Your mother wants the best for you. However, tell your mother that you are more than your grades.Helpful 6
What should I do when my mother prevents me from doing things I want? For example, like going to school
Discuss the matter with a relative & perhaps report your mother to a human services agency which deals with child abuse.Helpful 4
© 2011 Grace Marguerite Williams