“No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, This is my Story, 1937)

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem refers to the beliefs you hold about yourself and whether you like who you are.

If you suffer from low self-esteem you probably hold an unconscious belief that you are not good enough. Low self-esteem causes insecurities that may have a detrimental effect on your relationships and marriage and may be transferred to your children because you model insecure behaviours for your children. The most important role-model in any child’s life is the same-sex parent. They will look up to that parent and they will copy their behaviour.

If you have a poor body image and criticise yourself, your looks and your body, your children will learn to criticise their looks and bodies, even if you tell them that they look amazing. They will learn to find fault with what they eat, how they dress, what size they are and how they look to themselves and may become obsessed with the scale. Say something positive about yourself, your child and others in your child’s presence and don’t fixate on your weight and looks. Constantly criticising your children about their looks, intelligence, behaviour, achievements etc., will most certainly cause them to have low self-esteem.

Good self-esteem is the ability to appreciate all positive aspects of yourself and your life and to accept your limitations and still feel good about yourself. Good self-esteem means that you feel good about your strengths, and acknowledge your weaknesses without beating yourself up over it. Having good self-esteem is important because it helps us to feel secure, confident and adequate. We associate good self-esteem with inner-strength, self-fulfilment and a good sense of identity. Someone with good self-esteem will have no problem admitting their mistakes and apologising when they’re wrong or when they’ve hurt someone. Inadequacy and inferiority are associated with low self-esteem.

What you can do to build your own and your children’s self-esteem

  1. Do good for others. Remember to include your children in these activities but teach them not to brag about it. Don’t post photographs or brag about your good deeds on social media. Self-esteem is found inside your self.
  2. Find your passion and help your children to find their passion. Don’t coach them into what you believe their passion should be. Accept their passion as their own.
  3. Be true to yourself and teach your children how to be true to themselves. Being true to yourself means having a good set of values and principles and actually living them.
  4. Associate with supportive people and teach your children to associate with supportive friends and adults and to be supportive of their friends and family.
  5. List your past successes and remind your children of their own past successes, especially when something doesn’t turn out so well. When you acknowledge what you have achieved so far you won’t be focussed on the things that haven’t turned out well.
  6. Celebrate your and your children’s good qualities. Name them.
  7. Praise them when they’ve done well and tell them how proud you are of them.Stop comparing yourself and your children to others. Comparison tells your children that they are not good enough.
  8. Keep your communication positive. Negativity becomes a habit that is hard to break and it is easily transferred to your children.
  9. Feed yourself and your children with positivity, even when dealing with a problem. Respond to problems with a problem-solving attitude. Say: “Let’s see how we can solve this” or ask them: “How do you think you should solve this?” when they are faced with a problem of their own. This question teaches them to have a problem-solving frame of mind.
  10. When you constantly disapprove of your children you reinforce beliefs and feelings of inadequacy. Your demeanor says a lot about how you feel about them. Be happy to see them and to spend time with them. It’s easy to make them feel like a burden by the way you are in their presence.
  11. Instead of complaining about something they didn’t do or did poorly, ask for what you want instead. For example, if you asked your son to empty the rubbish bin and he only emptied half the rubbish, ask him to please clean out the rest instead of complaining about the bit he didn’t clean out. Say “thank you” or “well done” when the task is done.
  12. Accept all compliments with “thank you” and teach your children to do the same. It will teach them to value their strengths, looks, intelligence, achievements etc.
  13. Teach your children how to apologise. A simple “sorry” doesn’t cut it. When you apologise you should at least look sorry and you need to acknowledge what your behaviour did to the person you are apologising to. Apologise to your children when you have wronged them. Behaviour-modelling is the most important way to teach your children.
  14. Promote loving, respectful relationships among your children. Don’t show favouritism, ever.
  15. Do not create competition between your children. You will create lifelong drama for them – even hatred.
  16. Don’t speak in anger and say things you will regret. Things you say to your children will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
  17. Treat your children with respect. Remember, you model for your children. Your behaviour will become their behaviour.
  18. Don’t confront your child in front of anyone else. Do it in private, away from their siblings, your spouse or partner, their friends or anyone else. Don’t raise your voice when confronting them, don’t call them names and don’t belittle them. Treat your child the way you would want to be treated if someone had to confront you. Speak with love.
  19. You are not raising children. You are raising adults. Raise them to be well-balanced, respectful adults with high emotional intelligence, integrity and good values. Model these behaviours to your children. They see and hear everything you do, even the ‘white’ lies you tell, your behaviour in traffic, your colourful language, your drinking habits, your gossiping – to mention a few – and of course, your behaviour when things go wrong. Teach them how to love, respect, solve problems, remain calm, be honest and most importantly, how to be responsible adults.
  20. Never hit your children. Violence is not the way to solve problems and any form of corporal punishment is illegal in South Africa.

Elsabé Manning