6 ways we unknowingly lower our child’s self esteem and why it’s so hard not to

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As concerned, caring parents, our goal is to help our children to go out into the big bad world at age eighteen with these important qualities – responsibility, independence, and confidence. We can help them to be responsible and independent by giving them more chores around the house, teaching them how to manage money, and encouraging them to get a job as teenagers. And as a bonus, helping them to learn independence fosters confidence, as we know.

But sometimes, even with our best intentions, we can lower our kids’ self esteem with our words. We think when we impart our wise words and instruction, we’re helping our children to improve, to listen, or to behave better, but, in reality, the way we phrase our guidance can undermine their confidence slowly but surely everyday. Below are some ways we unknowingly lower our child’s self esteem and how we can instead raise their confidence by carefully choosing how we talk to our kids.

6 ways we can undermine our kids’ confidence:

1. Criticizing our children and/or their choices.

Kids are respond like adults when they are criticized: they defend themselves or shut down, and it makes them feel like they’re not capable of making good decisions. For example, when my daughter comes downstairs with the same outfit on she’s worn for 3 days straight that is not appropriate for the weather, and I say to her, “Honey, that outfit again? Sweetie, it’s too cold to wear shorts.” Even though this may seem harmless enough and like I’m just helping her to not look homeless and be cold, in reality, I’m undermining her decision and effectively saying “You’re not smart enough to know whether or not your own body is hot or cold or to chose your own clothes.”

How to fix it:

Instead I could say, “Hey honey, I’m wondering what might happen when you go outside today. The weather says it’s going to be 50 degrees. What do you think?” Then I let her figure the rest out. The consequences of wearing that outfit are either that she hears from her friends that it’s old and dirty and/or she’s cold. I can live with that, and as a result she is capable of figuring out if she made a good choice or not on her own.

2. Using commands and hurtful phrases that sound harmless.

When we say simple phrases like, “What are you doing that for!?” “How can you ever think that’s a good idea!?” or “How many times do I have to tell you that?” Or when we order our children to do things like “Stop yelling!” “Turn off the TV!” “Put your shoes on!” we’re effectively telling our child they are not competent enough to figure things out or to listen to us. We’re telling them they are too dumb to know what to do and they don’t know what’s happening in their own bodies.

How to fix it:

Instead, we want to be uncritical and unprotective, and let them figure things out by giving them the opportunity to listen and follow through with confidence. Try saying things like “Ella, I’ll let you decide for yourself.” “I wonder….” “I’m curious about…” “I trust you to…” “I know you are capable to…” or “I know you can figure this out.” and hand their problem back to them to solve for themselves.

3. Emphasizing their weaknesses and not their strengths

We think that before our kids can learn something, we must make them aware they are not good at that thing. However, this erodes your child’s self concept.

How to fix it:

Instead, if we build on our child’s strengths, they will grow confidence daily. Think about when someone believes in you, like a boss or a spouse. You do your best to prove them right and you work really hard to make them happy. But if as parents we give our kids the sense that they can never do anything right, our kids will never even try to prove us wrong.

4. Sending messages that they are not capable of a learning a new task.

My son loves to help me bake. He likes to crack the eggs and stir the batter and gets really excited. Of course, he frequently breaks the eggs on the table and spills the batter, causing a big mess. Yet, if I acknowledge this may happen before I start baking, since he is new at it, and plan for more time to clean up, I can patiently encourage him to keep trying and continue helping me. Then, I have effectively raised his self esteem. If however, I yell at him for making a mess and not doing it right, he may stop trying to help me and may feel he is not capable of learning new things. If we regularly focus on the end goal of the task rather than the experience of teaching our children a new skill or spending time with them, our kids will end up feeling like they’re not capable of helping around the house. Then we wonder why they don’t help with the chores!

How to fix it:

Instead we can ask them if they want our help with a new task or say “You’re doing a great job making your bed! Do you want to see how to get the bedspread straight like Mommy does?” And make the job more fun! See who can pick up the most toys or do something the fastest (my kids love timers and a good competition!).

5. Withholding unconditional love unintentionally

If we consistently send messages that our love is based on our child’s behavior, their self esteem will suffer. For example, some parents withhold love as a way of getting a child to behave better, and then the kids get the message that the real love will wait until they improve. When a child gets better grades, when they stop tantruming, when they finish their math homework, then we communicate love.

How to fix it:

However, the real signs of love – nonverbal communication – eye contact, physical touch, smiles, are what creates bond between parent and kid and creates sense of unconditional love that helps kids gain lots of confidence. We can give the message that there’s a lot of love available regardless of the way they behave.

6. Not allowing your child to make their own decisions

If we are always saying to our children to “wear your coat!” “Go to the bathroom before we leave” “You can’t be hungry, you just ate” “Go to sleep! You’ll be tired tomorrow!”, we are communicating to our children they are not capable of thinking for themselves. This can be demoralizing. Since we can’t force our children to go to sleep or eat, we are fighting a losing battle and undermining their confidence.

How to fix it:

Instead offer them lots of choices when they are young, so that they can practice good decision making and learn from their mistakes. Make it a game to see how many times they can fail, especially if they seem to naturally be more perfectionists. In addition, let them know when you make mistakes, when you’re trying to improve and when you’re learning how to do something new.

So, why do well-intentioned and loving parents make these mistakes?

Even the most loving parents undermine can their children’s confidence because they believe their child’s behavior is a reflection of their parenting or themselves. When our child wears dirty clothes, we worry that we will be judged by other parents. When our child misbehaves, we think others will blame us. When our kids get bad grades, we worry that their teachers will think we don’t have control over them.

This is why we have trouble NOT undermining our kids’ confidence in the ways listed above. We get caught up in how our kids reflect on US. With life coaching, we can learn to how to free ourselves from this trap. We learn that we are unable to control our children, but we can control our thoughts about our children and ourselves. Life coaching helps us to first look at our own thoughts and clean them up so that we can be in a good place to help our kids fulfill their potential without getting caught up in our own drama about them. Once we learn to manage our minds around our kids behavior, we can successfully give them what they need to grow up confident and independent. Life coaching helps us to be successful at consistently offering our children our best selves, so they can become their best selves as adults.


Want to learn how to be better at helping your kids become independent adults without all the drama? Sign up below for a free mini session to see if life coaching is for you! Click here to claim your spot on my calendar!