Teaching Self-esteem

Updated on October 28, 2010
V.B. asks from Janesville, WI
17 answers

We had a parent-teacher conference with my 4 year old's preschool teacher the other day, and one of the things she told us is he needs to work on self-esteem. Here's my problem, I'm bipolar, which complicates things when I get depressed or angry and my son automatically thinks it's his fault. Plus, my self-esteem is in the tank. My husband tries, but his self-esteem slips too. How do two self-esteem challenged parents raise a child with good self-esteem?

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answers from St. Louis on

find an activity for him...swimming, sports, etc....& let him blossom!

When KG begins, then you'll have more choices. Scouts are an excellent choice!

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answers from Dallas on

Self Esteem always eluded me. People preach it, but you can't just DECIDE to feel good about yourself. I never understood why people were always telling me I had to have it for myself before anyone else would. Like I was just not doing it right. That gave me even worse self esteem! I never got the whole Sesame Street "You are special....just like everybody else" thing! I thought it came exclusivley from a girls relationship with her father - well, you can't go back and fix that. So, that seemed like a lost cause. Before, when someone would tell me all the things about myself that I should be proud of, I would be thinking....yeah but if you really knew me, you would know I'm a fraud. I'm not that smart, I'm overweight, I'm blah blah, blah.
It took a recovering alcoholic, doing her 12 steps, to finally make me understand. It's about "esteemable acts." When you do things that make you feel good about yourself you start to build respect for yourself. You feel more confidant when you have some recent accomplishments to lean on. For me, when I work out, do good things for other people, and when I do well at work, I feel good about myself. I have built a good opinion of myself by doing things that I am proud of. It's not just telling yourself to like yourself. You have to DO things you are proud of. For some that's being good at sports. For some that's volunteer work. Doing things you are proud of changes the tape in your head. Now when people tell me good things about myself, I smile and think "yeah baby! I'm so glad you see it too! I must be doing something right" Keep in mind this principle works in the converse also. When you do things you are Not proud of, it really damages your self esteem.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Coming from this parent who has low self esteem, I can totally relate. Thankfully, my daughter who is almost 2, hasn't seemed to catch on to me yet. I make sure to do my best to keep my depression/comments about myself away from her little ears. The other thing I have made sure to do is encourage her independance which helps her own self image.
I would look into some kind of sports/creative outlet for your son. That would help his own self image. As for our parental issues, we need to keep them in check and "fake it" for their sakes sometimes. They don't understand our problems and challenges, so until they are ready, I don't feel we should burden them with it. Sometimes, I find that when I pretend to be happy, it actually helps me to be happier. Hope this helps. Feel free to msg me if you ever want to chat. What you are going through is not easy. Good luck and God bless.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Research shows that kids of bi-polar parents almost always end up with depression. It's as much as a physical thing as it is in the environment in which they're raised. Being bi-polar it will be really, really tough to display appropriate reactions to ordinary events and to model healthy attitudes that your child will learn. I know because my mom is diagnosed bi-polar with paranoia. I now am diagnosed with dysthymia. And I've read as much as I could on the disease without going for a degree in it.

The 'self esteem' the teacher is referring to might be more the glasses your child has and view the world with. It's usually grayer than most of the 'sunnier kids'. Happy kids usually are more self-reliant, self assured and will display healthy self esteem. Kids who aren't as sunny will be seen as having self esteem issues, where they just may not have the training to see the world as a happy, healthy, fun place. Again, it's part nature, part nurture.

My advice is to make sure your child has a close relationship with a grandparent, close family friend, aunt/uncle or someone who and can also show them the value they have as kids. They can demonstrate normal reactions to things, they can talk about their world view and how they see things. Much of this I didn't learn until I moved away from my mom. Where try as she might, she still had several episodes of very unhealthy behaviour -she attempted suicide 4 times as I was growing up. Then she'd medicate and be fine. Because of that and my predisposition to be 'down' I really needed someone to be my advocate, cheerleader and offer unconditional love. I miss my grandma to this day.

The only other thing I will say is to take care of yourself. Your child needs you. GL

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Great advise so far. I highly recommend you find some activity that your son can excel in easily. It might take trying many. You can ask all studios and such for a free week or two of lessons, like karate, gymnastics, ice skating, dance, before you decide to commit. Then go out exploring with him and find out what makes him smile, what he wants to return to. Success breeds success.

And always remind him after you've had a mood swing - that is is NOT his fault, that it will NEVER be his fault and that he has a safe place to talk about his feelings or fears with you. Be honest about your struggles with him. Connect with him after one of your periods of depression and anger. Don't pretend it did not happen. He's watching and sees all. He'll learn empathy and who knows, will become the next Dr. Phil....

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answers from Dallas on

The BIGGEST thing, is to work on your self esteem. Children learn self-worth, confidence, esteem...in a huge part from the parents. Do what you can for you!! Find things, that you're great at, you enjoy, etc. Are you good at cooking? Cook as a family, so your son will see you doing something well and having fun with it. That's just an example. Do things as a family, that demonstrate your abilities to your son. Color with him, frame the picture and put it where everyone can see. Compliment it, every time he is around. Compliment him every second you get! Every time he tries something cheer him on, congratulate him, talk him up with how good he was. My mom had painfully low self esteem and it was detrimental, to my sisters and I. I've improved mine, thanks to my hubby. My sisters still very much struggle,

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answers from Minneapolis on

Self-esteem, eh. That phrase launched all kinds of silly behavior in schools, and contributed to the phenomenon of kids who think they are really smart, but actually....aren't.

My preferred phrase is self-confidence. Self-confidence is really important. And you get self-confidence from achievement and DOING things. All the advice you've gotten about having your son get involved in activities is great -- he needs to have something special that he is really good at, and keeps getting better at through work, practice, and experience. That could be a sport or an art form (music, theatre, dance), but it could also be an academic skill, or a social skill. When he's a bit older he could get that feeling of confidence from being helpful and giving, and volunteering somewhere. He could get it from being great with animals, or from being funny, or from being a really good cook.

What I'm trying to say is, you don't have to be some sort of superstar to be self-confident.

One of the ways you can help is to think about your parenting decisions, and then stick to them. Have confidence in yourself when you interact with him. If you sign him up for something, and then he says after two lessons that he wants to quit, don't give in. If you do, he learns to be a quitter. If you keep him going, he'll learn to give things time, and it might turn out to be great.

Another thing you can do is to think about the way you talk to him. If you give him lots of praise (good job, that's terrific, that's beautiful, you're so great) it ends up, in the end, being empty praise. When you talk to him about what he is doing, talk about what he is doing. What I mean is, you comment on his painting -- instead of "wow, that's beautiful," say, "I notice you used lots of green here. Look at all the detail you put into this person. I see hands AND all the fingers, too. And over here, did you notice, you used lots of red. I can tell you put some real thought into this picture."

Things are going to be fine, because you love him, and are committed to doing the right things for your son.

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answers from New York on

I used to have serious problems with my self-esteem. One of the key things that happened to me to change my view of my self was the active exercising of my faith. If you have exhausted all other options for helping yourself I would say try God. Not just going from church to church but actively studying what God has to say about why you were created and what your purpose in life is and how much he loves you. As you begin this process together as individuals and as a family watch your esteem go through the roof. Since this happened for me, I'm certain it can happen for you too.

Give it an honest try and see what happens.

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answers from Milwaukee on

You have to able to be "present" to be a good parent. This means...even when you're tired/depressed/anxious..being able to look at something they have done like a puzzle or a picture and say nice job..etc. Touching, telling them you love them..Stability and security is that children seek that make them confident in the world. Excercise works for me, eating healthy and avoiding chemical/alchol helps with my mood swings..Best of luck to you. You are all worth it..!

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answers from Minneapolis on

I liked most of the answers so far. One other thing I try to do is to separate my child's behavior from herself, because I grew up in a very shame-based household where if you did something wrong it meant YOU were bad. So if I have to discipline her, I will tell her I didn't like what she did but I love her. I'm hoping that this will be reassuring to her personhood. I am not 100% successful in doing this but I try. A lot of people suggested getting him to do things, which is great, and having some kind of accomplisment board or chart where he gets to document his successes (using stickers or something else fun) might be an extra boon for him.

Thanks for your courage in talking about this.

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answers from Detroit on

My whole family struggles with mood disorders. At one of my lowest points, I made a list of 20 things I liked about myself. Actually it took me a while to come up with 20 things. I keep it in my desk drawer and reference it often. I would also recommend the book "I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better" by Gary and Joy Lundberg which addresses how to validate children to build their self esteem and encourage independence. You can also go on line and look up activities to do with your son that will build his self image. At his age, making handprints or tracing his body on a big piece of paper and then decorating it and hanging it up help with self image. Also, have you ever watched Joel Olsteen? He's a TV evangelist which might sound kind of weird but he's a really good speaker and really builds a positive thought process. He has some books out too. Good for you that you are looking into ways to help him! What a good mom you are!

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answers from Sioux City on

Encourage your child to pre-plan tasks, envisioning the specifics as well as the thrill of the successful outcome. By planning the specifics, your child is more likely to be prepared to respond to any potential set-backs that occur along the way. By envisioning success, your child is more likely to engage the task in a mindset that is consistent with success. Demonstrate your own envisioning process for your child. Ask your child to share his/her envisioning process with you. These can be wonderful sharing sessions.
Discourage your child from keeping secrets. A confident person will “put himself/herself out there” (in a situationally appropriate manner), secure in the knowledge that many people will accept him/her as he/she is (with all his/her strengths and weakness), and that some people will not be able to accept him/her for their perceptions of his/her weaknesses (yet he/she will be ok without the acceptance of the latter group of people). To model this for your child, be real with your child. Do you and your spouse fight some times? Sure. Admit it to your child. But also reinforce to your child that disagreements are minor and will not endanger your marriage or your relationship with your child.
Get your child involved in volunteerism for a neighbor in need, a worthy non-profit organizations, etc. Your child learns not only the value he/she has to offer, but also the importance of cooperation, compassion, and service to others. (One mother has her grade-school-aged children read each evening to their neighbor lady who is elderly, blind, and lives alone. Another mother has her pre-teen child sort donated items at a local non-profit organization.)
When your child fails at a task, recognize the failure and allow the child to grieve the failure, but also reinforce what the child did right during the task and that the child can learn from his/her mistakes and thus use this failure as an opportunity for greater success in the future. (It is important for your child to learn that failure at a task does not result in his/her failure as a person. It’s ok to fail every now and then. Everyone does it, and no one should be de-valued for an honest attempt that didn’t pan out.)
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answers from Minneapolis on

I love the book "Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline" for many reasons. One of the things that the author suggests is to not make a value judgment towards your children's tasks (good & bad), so that they learn to make their OWN value judgments. So, don't say "great job picking up your toys." Say, with enthusiasm, "you picked up all your toys!" Then HE gets to think to himself "great job." It's really hard to get in the habit of doing it, but after 6 months, I'm there. My son says things every-now-and-then that remind me that he's filling in the blanks, like he'll say "I did it all by myself" or "I'm good at XYZ."
You are to be commended for acknowledging that you should do something about it and trying to do so. Good luck! Remember, you can only do your best.



answers from Green Bay on

Your son is blessed to have 2 parents that care about him, but also challenged with the bipolar factor. I would suggest you seek family and individual counseling to constantly be there to address specific needs. These are big challenges that can be helped by professionals.

Keep those meds regulated.
Best wishes!



answers from Des Moines on

There was a great article in this month of Parents magazine that focused on the benefits of martial arts for kids. Self-esteem was one of the major benefits of this kind of activity. Maybe your whole family could enroll. We have not tried this yet as our kids are still too young, but I am seriously considering getting my son involved as soon as he is old enough.

I'd also consider finding a local church to plug into. many contemporary churches offer great kids programs. Being a part of a community and serving others is a great way to bolster self esteem.



answers from Davenport on

See if you can find at your local library ( or ask them if they can find it somewhere and inter-library loan it for you - usually a free service) the book, Love and Logic magic for Early Childhood: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Logic-Magic-Early-Childhood/dp...

It is worh buying I think, but the library is a free preview option. It is usually turned to as a "discipline" answer book, but REALLY, Love and Logic is an approach to raising your kids in general, not JUST discipline. Basically, it is a way to guide them to be responsible and have a great self concept and teach them to make good decisions for themselves, while the decisions are still the small ones with small consequences, rather than choosing everything for them till they are 'teens and then turning them loos on the big decisions with big consequences like sex, drugs, driving, etc.

Some of the basic principles are to give you child LOTS of small choices every day ( make sure the choices you give are limited and that either option he chooses doesn't bother you at all) for example: "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue one?" "Do you want corn flakes or oatmeal?" "would you like to get dressed first, or eat breakfast first today?" When you give them lots of choices in their life, they feel more in control of their own life, and are more willig to let you handle a bigger decision like when it is time to go to bed, when you remind them how many choices they have had today ,and now it is your turn. This is a great book and series of books and CDs. I highly reccommend it!

Also, try getting him involved in group activities that he excells at, cub scouts, pee wee soccer or t-ball or something, and be sure to praise his efforts at home. Let him help you - it may also seem like more work to have him help, but in the long run, you are teaching him that he is a valued part of the family - my kids are almost 4, and 20 months, and they both love to load or unload the tupperware and the silverware from the dishwasher for me, and LOVE to use the swiffer dusters too. My almost 4 year old daughter, loves to switch laundry form the washer to the dryer for me ( we have front loaders) and help fold her own clothes and match up sock pairs. Make a sticker chart for the things you want him to do each day and give him a sticker for each one he accomplishes, and a prize after whatever # of stickers you choose. Give big praise and hugs for any efforst to help and be self reliant!

You also have to watch yourselves, try not to berate yourselves or each other in front of him. Try working on your own self esteem, he his sake, and make sure you are getting any professional help and or meds you need! He is 4, maybe you should explain to him about your condition, in simple terms, so he understands it is not his, or anyone else's fault with your mood changes? Here are a couple links that may help: http://www.mhasp.org/coping/guardians.html http://bipolar.about.com/od/children/a/recordplayer.htm

Best of luck - it is a great sign, that you recognize the need and are trying to meet it, and not just ignoring it or saying it is "his" problem, not mine ( my MIL did this with her oldest daughter's issues and it caused many issues down the road). Keep working to gether on the whole family's self esteem!




answers from Minneapolis on

Get professional help and support. Don't go it alone, your son is worth it!
He's only 4 years old, do it now! You and your family deserve to live a happy life!

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