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Ten Ways Parents Destroy Their Children's Self-Esteem

Grace loves to write commentaries on psycho-cultural and sociocultural dynamics in their myriad forms.

Don't accidentally tear down your children's confidence.

Don't accidentally tear down your children's confidence.

How to Destroy a Child's Precious Sense of Being

Parents try to discipline children for their own good. They tell themselves that the child will appreciate this one day. Parents believe that they apply corrective measures because they care for their children.

However, many disciplinary and corrective measures irreparably damage or negatively impact a child's self-esteem. Many parents believe that they are only guiding and helping their children 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. Avoid them!

How Parents Hurt Their Child's Self-Esteem

  1. Comparing Children to Siblings or Other Children
  2. Criticizing a Child's Innate Abilities, Temperament, or Characteristics
  3. Requiring Conformity
  4. Continuously Harping About Mistakes
  5. Teaching That a Child's Dreams, Aspirations, and Goals Are Impossible to Reach
  6. Living Their Kid's Lives and Planning Their Careers
  7. Evaluating a Child's Intellectual Capacity upon Grade Point Average
  8. Zeroing in on So-Called Negative Characteristics
  9. Never Praising
  10. Demanding Blind Obedience
Each child is unique. Many parents fail to realize this. They believe that by comparing one child to another, the "errant" one will improve. However, it does quite the opposite, and many such children feel worthless.

Each child is unique. Many parents fail to realize this. They believe that by comparing one child to another, the "errant" one will improve. However, it does quite the opposite, and many such children feel worthless.

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 personalities and voice.

Some apply corrective or disciplinary methods that can verge on emotional or verbal abuse which damage their children's self-esteem.

Some apply corrective or disciplinary methods that can verge on emotional or verbal abuse which damage their children's self-esteem.

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.

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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 lives 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.

Some parents want their children to be physically/emotionally flawless. They believe individualities are flaws that need correction. This results in a child's poor self image.

Some parents want their children to be physically/emotionally flawless. They believe individualities are flaws that need correction. This results in a child's poor self image.

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.

There are parents who feel that praise makes a child conceited. They don't realize that children need positive reinforcement.

There are parents who feel that praise makes a child conceited. They don't realize that children need positive reinforcement.

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 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.

Final Word

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

Question: Why does my father point out all my flaws?

Answer: Your father is an abusive parent. Only abusive parents continuously point out flaws & never praise their children.

Question: 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.)

Answer: 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.

Question: 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.

Answer: 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".

Question: My mom only cares about my grades more than me and is a control freak. WHat should I do?

Answer: Your mother wants the best for you. However, tell your mother that you are more than your grades.

Question: Why do my parents get mad at me for being sad, grumpy, or having a mental breakdown when they are the reason for my mental pain?

Answer: It is called denial. Discuss the matter with an impartial relative, counselor, or a teacher.

Question: What should I do when my mother prevents me from doing things I want? For example, like going to school

Answer: Discuss the matter with a relative & perhaps report your mother to a human services agency which deals with child abuse.

Question: Do overprotective parents bring honesty or a lack of confidence in their children?

Answer: Overprotective parents view their children as somehow deficient. In these parents' purview, their children are incapable of doing anything for themselves. Such parents demoralize their children in one way or another. Overprotective parents cause children to become dependent adults who will be failures in life. Children of overprotective parents don't develop the skills to succeed in life. The worst thing parents can do is to OVERPROTECT & INFANTILIZE children.

Question: My parents are forcing me to attend school in my country when I know it’s not going to work out for me. What can I do?

Answer: Discuss the matter thoroughly with your parents. If they aren't receptive, discuss the matter with a trusted relative.

Question: After not being able to date and having your critical narcissistic mother and kind/go-along father force your career, marrying a violent man, would you say my problems stem from low self-esteem? Such as overspending? Never picking the right man?

Answer: Your family situation is toxic. A family counselling session is needed. If your parents are not receptive to counselling, go by yourself.

Question: I feel like my parents do not trust me. Mom keeps restricting me, nagging me if she doesn't satisfied with everything I did. She once read my diary which I wrote about how I feel unappreciated, useless because of all the things she said to me. She went and sulked on me for days. What should I do to improve my relationship with my mother?

Answer: You and your mother should do joint counseling. Joint counseling will get issues out in the open. You and your mother need joint counseling.

Question: Why do my parents always scold me about my scars when I'm trying my best to remove them?

Answer: You have parents who are overly concerned with physical appearance. While physical appearance is important, it isn't important as to what is internal. Internal beauty is far more important than outer beauty.

Question: I think my parents wanted a perfect child instead they got me. That is how I feel but I am shy to talk about it. What should I do?

Answer: There are parents who view their children as an extension of them instead of the individuals that they are. Many parents view their children as THEIR possessions, even trophies. Parents must realize that children are individuals & that they DON'T OWN their children. Most parents, unfortunately, have this mindset. It is only a few evolved, enlightened parents who view & treat their children as individuals. You should either discuss this matter w/a trusted relative. If that doesn't pan out, seek a counselor's help.

Question: Why do my parents always compare me to my sister?

Answer: In families where there are 2 children or more, parents compare children. This is wrong as each child is unique. Parents refuse to acknowledge how insidious comparing children are for many children are emotionally, psychologically, & even psychically damaged by comparing them to other children.

Question: Why do I feel so guilty when my father points out my siblings flaws?

Answer: Maybe you feel responsible for your sibling. You feel that whatever your sibling does for good or bad, you feel somehow that you are responsible for your sibling's actions when such isn't necessarily the case.

© 2011 Grace Marguerite Williams


I rather not say my full name on July 25, 2020:

So some of that did happened to me .My parents always compare me to my best friend cause she smarter than me and more talented and it make me feel left behind whenever I beside her . I used to have suicide thoughts when I was little but I give up on that because of the internet that make me have a lot of online friends that supported me .I feel stupid sometimes because when I have negative thoughts there goes the positive pop out of no where .,. My parents also want me to live what they had planned on me told me that when i grow up I need to gave them some of my "money " to show respect for raising me so they gave me more tuition and that one of the reason i been stressed lately (which cause me had overthinking habits and overreacting) and my grade dropped so they called me useless , stupid instead of their favourite child (my third sister and the youngest ). I feel much better letting some of my problems out OvO

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on July 03, 2020:

Talk to a trusted relative about this. No child should suffer. Please talk to a trusted relative.

Alyssa Schrader on July 03, 2020:

Im 10 and all of this has happend to me. And my parents blame my attitued on the internet, And they tried to use a counsler to get rid of my attitued but it didnt work at all, and dont tell me i need to get a counsler it just made me feel more alone and like i didnt fit in..., Im already haveing suicidle thaughts since i wad 5. My mom is the only one nice to me. AND when i say parents i mean my daf and my grandma bc i live with them...

Sherry Lowery on June 08, 2020:

And telling them they are stupid and him telling to our face our mother is stupid and barely graduated with c’s and D’s and what a cold fish she was a in bed with him ! Yeah right to my face and I was only 11or 12! That was embarrassing to me as what could I have done ?! He should have taken this up with his wife! After all this was a reflection on him as a male ! That was an example of parental alien affection .., learned this in divorce law how parents pitnchildren against parents.. that’s wrong and cruel .. I saw through it at an early age as be never had our backs or supported us emotionally or mentally .., sad

Vee on June 02, 2020:

My parents are all of these, which caused me to be suicidal since I was literally a child (I started thinking about it when I turned 8 I think).

They’ve also brianwashed and tricked everyone into believing they are perfect ‘can do no wrong’ parents, and even convinced my own therapists that I’m a selfish child because ‘they do so much for me’ (AKA the bare minimum).

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on January 24, 2020:

Speak to your mother & if she refuses to listen, you should speak to another relative or a school counselor.

nighah fatima on January 19, 2020:

Hey I am Fatima my mother is selecting her own opinion in my career she didn't give me any chance to study by my wish I Wana be in army but she don't understanding and she is doing what she wants what I do now?

Hi, I'm now a parent. on June 13, 2019:

I just want to let you know "anonymous" and "no account please" I think you are both really special and strong! I believe in you and I don't even know you! :)

Grace Marguerite Williams (author) from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York on May 22, 2019:

Mee, talk to a counselor or a trusted family member regarding your situation. What your mother is doing to you is beyond horrific. She is emotionally abusing you & you don't have to take this.

mee on May 22, 2019:

my parents always tell me how am disappointing and how I will fail my tests. I have never been allowed to go out and have fun with my friends and I am 14. I can't even have a sleepover. only school and then home. I have terrible times at school and I have no friends to be there for me. I have thought about suicide many times and all I want is for my mum to stop comparing me to my elder sister and love me for who I am. I just want her to hug me and say that she will be there for me no matter what but I know she won't because she would've said it by now.

Ken on February 17, 2019:

Both my parents are like this. Dad is happy to just follow on a stronger mom … simply because it absolves him of the responsibility. So everything mom say IS, WILL BE right.

I have a stored temper...due to being suppressed and snubbed from even showing negative irritation, get blamed for everything they do or that is not of their limited paradigms, heavily criticized for not wearing what clothes they got me (out of "love") or for keeping even a 2 day stubble.

Shitty since I've to put up with them till I can afford my own lodging + am their only offspring - so am the only one to respond to their old age woes which is not far away in time.

9 years they have been grumbling and criticizing my choice of freelance self-employment only because I dashed their dreams of being gainfully employed in the system.

Grew up thinking they were the best due to their work successes. Never realized they were so dysfunctional till recently.

pissed and stuck in this life w them.

me on November 21, 2018:

i also forgot to add i really badly wanted a phone im 14 and my cousins are younger then me and also there are some older then me i planned of what phone im going to get of coarse apple i told my mom and she said that she doesn't have enough money for it and then my cousin asked the one who is a year older then me she is getting him a phone on black friday last year my mom got phones for my aunt and one of my cousins, i remmember when my mom gets mad she tells me to die and that if i was dead it would be easier for the family and that she wouldn't have to constantly yell at me my mom says that im a disgracful peice of shit to this family

me on November 21, 2018:

funny how all 10 describe my parents your typical asian parents also such a coincidence my mother was talking to my younger cousin over the phone she's i think 12 and im 14 and she's comparing her and my sister with me always telling my flaws to others and making a bad picture of me i feel humiliated and disgraced of myself i hate myself of who i am now i think of myself lowly now my self esteem is destroyed now no matter how much i talk back to that voice of negitivity i lose every time it proves to me that this is what I am a peice of shit and nothing more my mother never shows her love to me it was always my sister and my mother and father only care about my grades that is it i struggle with math and i stepped from a D to an B and then something happened between witch caused me to drop my grade down to a D again and they gave me a 2 hour lecture about how im nothing without my grades and that if i don't step up my grades they will send me to a hostel my hobby is art is shut down i live art and no one can stop me from doing what i love so lunch at school or secret art classes is the only time i get to do the thing i love

Ren on October 09, 2018: