How Parents Destroy Self-Esteem – 12 Ways You’re Hurting Kids

Does your child struggle with his sense of self-worth? You may be unknowingly contributing to his low self-esteem. Here’s how parents destroy the self-esteem of their little ones.

Does your child suffer from a lack of confidence? As parents, sometimes we can develop bad habits and unknowingly contribute to our child’s self-esteem issues. If you want to help your child build a strong sense of self-worth, stop doing these 12 things.

Belittling emotions

Children tend to feel big emotions. Their worlds are small, and when something upsetting happens, it’s typical that they respond in exaggerated ways (at least, from a parent’s point of view). But your child’s feelings are real. And, as parents, it’s a bad idea to minimize or trivialize their feelings.

This is really hard for many parents. When your child is crying over something that seems insignificant, it’s easy to say “It’s fine” or “You’re ok” or “It’s no big deal”. But these phrases are not teaching our kids how to deal with these emotions effectively. Instead, we’re sending the message ‘You are being ridiculous’ or ‘Your feelings don’t matter.’ This is devastating to a child’s self-esteem.

Instead, validate your child’s feelings, and help them get through them. You can do this easily by saying what you see. For example, you might say “I can see you’re very upset that there are no red popsicles left!” or “It must be so frustrating that your toy truck is broken!” 

Making comparisons

Children want to please their parents. And when we compare one child to another, we’re sending the message that one is better than the other. This can create stress and anxiety for kids, and also erode their self-esteem. There’s an interesting study that found that a parent’s beliefs about a child actually had more influence on who the children became than the actual parenting style used to raise the children. 

Preventing mistakes

Kids need to make mistakes. And it’s a parent’s job to be there to help children learn from mistakes. When parents actively try to prevent their children from learning important lessons through mistakes, they’re creating children who don’t know how to learn and grow through failure. Children need the opportunity to face challenges in order to build a sense of self-worth. You may have heard of lawnmower parenting or helicopter parenting. These are the parents who shield their kids from failure (usually with good intentions) and ultimately handicap their child’s self-esteem.

Encouraging or enable a victim mentality

People who have a victim mentality are usually focused on the negatives of life. And if we enable or encourage this type of thinking in our children, we’re raising kids who feel bad about themselves and struggle to enjoy the bright side of life. 

To combat a victim mentality, you can practice daily grounding strategies, use positive affirmations, and focus on developing a growth mindset.

Being controlling and overprotective 

Controlling parenting can leave lasting scars on a child’s psyche. It increases stress and anxiety and it erodes self-esteem. Kids feel as though they cannot be trusted to make decisions for themselves, and this becomes their inner voice. Learn how to manage your controlling parenting to help your kids flourish.

Using punishment instead of discipline 

Punishment and discipline are not the same things. To discipline someone is to teach them. To punish someone is to hurt them in some way (it’s actually a negative form of discipline). When we punish kids, the consequence feels punitive. It can create resentment and damage the parent/child relationship. And what’s worse, it doesn’t actually stop the behavior. 

Instead of handing out punishments for misbehaviors, try implementing consequences, when/then routines, or another parenting tool that has better results.

Overreacting to mistakes

Humans learn by doing. By nature, we make mistakes and learn from them. As a parent, we should want our kids to make mistakes while they are under our care so that we can help them learn valuable lessons (as opposed to making mistakes later in life). And when we overreact to a mistake they made, we’re sending a clear message that we are disappointed, that we expect more, and more importantly, that we aren’t a “safe” place to come when they do make mistakes. 

What’s important is to correct and learn from mistakes. So do your best to keep your cool, but hold your child accountable for correcting the issues (because this definitely helps cement the lesson learned).

Using the phrase “Because I said so”

This phrase is the epitome of an authoritarian style of parenting. And most parents agree that blind obedience is not something we want to encourage in our children. If you’re using a positive parenting strategy or any other democratic parenting philosophy, this phrase is probably confusing for your kids and contradictory to other values within your family. 

If you’re looking for an alternative, try “Asked and Answered!” This lets your kids know that you’ve considered their questions and already provided the answer. It sends the message ‘my mind is not changing.’ Try it! You’ll be surprised at how well it works.

Using only extrinsic motivators

Extrinsic motivators, such as sticker potty charts, prizes for doing chores, or money for grades, create a ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude. And it’s a slippery slope – shortly after you start offering prizes and money for tasks, you have to up the reward so it keeps motivating your kids. 

It’s better to foster an environment where intrinsic motivation is the primary driver. It creates kids who are confident and passionate about what they do. So focusing on intrinsic motivators, with the occasional extrinsic reward, can help kids thrive.

RELATED: Why participation trophies are bad for kids

Does your child struggle with his sense of self-worth? You may be unknowingly contributing to his low self-esteem. Here’s how parents destroy the self-esteem of their little ones.
Does your child struggle with his sense of self-worth? You may be unknowingly contributing to his low self-esteem. Here’s how parents destroy the self-esteem of their little ones.

Making decisions without their input 

According to Adlerian Psychology, a child’s primary goal is to feel a sense of belonging and significance. Nothing makes a person feel more insignificant or incapable than when other people make decisions for them. A great way to boost your child’s confidence is to hear their input. Even if they don’t get their way, their preferences are heard (which makes them feel important to a certain degree). If at all possible, find a middle ground, or a compromise, to give your child a big hit of power and significance.

Never or rarely giving kids undivided attention

For kids, time equals love. One of the easiest ways to make your kids feel good about themselves is to give them your undivided attention, even if it’s just 10 or 15 minutes. When your kids don’t get time with you, they question their value and their worth. 

It’s important that you provide your undivided attention. If you’re glued to your phone while putting a puzzle together with your kid, you’re sending the message that something on your phone is more important. 

RELATED: 131+ Self Love Affirmations

Calling names and using labels

When you use bad names or use negative labels to describe your child, your words will become their inner voice. Those words define them. Even if you carefully phrase the name-calling, like “you’re acting like a jerk,” that label (jerk) will still stick in their mind. You should never call your child names, or use labels to describe them (like lazy, wild, or shy).

Even more positive labels should be avoided, because kids have a tendency to internalize those characteristics, and believe they are unable to change that about themselves. Your daughter might not always want to be “the quiet one” and your son might not always want to be “the athletic kid.” Give them the opportunity to explore and define their own character without your preconceived ideas about who they are!  


Did you skip ahead? No problem!

We covered the 12 surprising ways you’re contributing to your child’s lack of confidence. Here’s how parents destroy self-esteem in kids:

  • Belittling emotions
  • Making comparisons
  • Preventing mistakes
  • Encouraging or enable a victim mentality
  • Being controlling and overprotective 
  • Using punishment instead of discipline 
  • Overreacting to to mistakes
  • Using the phrase “Because I said so”
  • Using only extrinsic motivators
  • Making decisions without their input 
  • Never or rarely giving kids undivided attention
  • Calling names and using labels

What You Should Do Next…

1. Snag Our Connected Parent Challenge

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2. Join Our Free Online Community

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3. Take a Free 60-Minute Parenting Webinar

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