Is low self-esteem a good thing for a child ?

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I am delighted to have my great friend Dr Rosina McAlpine from as my guest blogger today.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney (see University of Sydney ) and has a Masters degree and a PhD in education. She is an award-winning educator having received 3 outstanding teaching awards – national citation in 2006, faculty award in 2008, university award in 2009 and has been nominated by the university for a national excellence in teaching award in 2011.

Here is her article on self esteem. 

“Every parent would like their child to have a positive sense of self. I can’t imagine anyone saying “low self-esteem is a good thing for a child”. However, the truth is that many children live with poor self-esteem and this can have a negative effect on their lives.

Self-esteem refers to how children feel about themselves and what they believe about themselves. It refers to a child’s self-evaluation – not what parents believe about their child. Children who have a good positive view of themselves accept themselves and are less likely to succumb to peer pressure or have the need to be like others. These children are more likely to discover and make their unique contribution to the world. Children with poor self-esteem are more likely to succumb to peer pressure and be bullied. They also tend to be insecure and therefore behave defensively which often results in all kinds of negative behaviour, especially in difficult circumstances.

It is very important for young children to feel good about themselves and to develop their personal power so they can feel safe to explore the world, learn from their experiences and grow. Exploration and being open to new experiences is likely to be easier for children who have a good sense of self and feel safe. Children who do not feel sure of themselves or feel unsafe are more likely to shy away from new experiences and therefore hinder their own development. So if you’re a parent and you’re wondering how to support your child’s development of good self-esteem here are some ideas.

  • Children look to their parents to learn about how to act in the world. A parent who has good self-esteem provides a wonderful role model for their child to follow. By the same token a parent who regularly puts themselves or their child down with language like “you’re so hurtful/stupid/bad/naughty” etc can harm their child’s self-esteem.
  • Spending time and interacting in a caring way with your children tells them that you believe they are important and loved. They can then internalise your beliefs and behaviours. That is, if you believe they are important and lovable they must be important and lovable – because parents are always right. Right? The opposite also holds true. Children can interpret an absent parent as meaning that they are not a priority or an important part of their parent’s life and this can be internalised as “I’m not important” and can lead to poor self-esteem.
  • Understanding and explaining the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence to your child is important for supporting healthy self-esteem. Self-confidence is about doing. The more a child practices something the more confident they can become at a task. It is beneficial to help your child see that self-esteem is NOT about doing but about being. Tying a child’s self worth to what they do in life can harm their self-esteem. Children can come to believe that they are only valuable or deserve love if they achieve something.

By valuing ourselves and every child as an individual we support the development of healthy sense of self. Every child is a unique and valuable being in their own right deserving respect and love regardless of what they have done in their life or what they look like. Helping children to see they are loved and valuable just because they are and for no other reason is a huge support for their self-esteem.”

Dr Rosina McAlpine, www.winwinparenting developing kids life skills 15 mins at a time.

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