If you know a child who has low self-esteem, you may have assumed that the damage to their confidence was inflicted maliciously. As parents, we cannot imagine ever doing things to cause such hurt and damage to our children.
But here is the unfortunate truth: without realizing it, sometimes we are those parents.
Children can grow up in homes free from any physical or emotional abuse but still reach adulthood greatly damaged. These children may doubt their own worth, feel unable to stand up for themselves, mistrust their own judgment and believe they deserve to be mistreated in relationships.
Of course, no parent wants this for their children. However, small frustrations, societal pressures, stress, and repeating the mistakes of our own parents can cause us to do things that harm our children's souls. We don't cause damage through one large act. We cause it by many small acts. To avoid this, we can make sure that we don't commit the following 6 parenting sins:
1. Constantly Targeting Them with Small Criticisms
It is impossible to raise children without ever correcting or criticizing them. Unfortunately, many parents constantly criticize their children from the time they wake up in the morning, to the time they go to bed. In many cases, the parents don't even realize they are doing this.
They may feel as if they are giving constructive suggestions, or that their remarks simply are not that big of an issue. The fact is: when parents criticize it stings, even when the criticism is delivered as gently as possible. It hurts even when the parent has no intention of making it hurt. It is worse for the child when there isn't nearly as much praise and acceptance being expressed compared to the criticisms.
2. Mocking or Belittling their Interests
Every generation of children has hobbies, interests, and ways of passing their time that their parents may not understand. It would be wonderful if these parents would simply accept that kids have new ways of enjoying themselves and even new ways of communicating with one another.
Unfortunately many parents mock or demean their children either as individuals or as members of a generation. They post and share memes ridiculing kids as slackers who do nothing but text each other, play online video games, and watch Netflix. Parents even loudly make snide comments to their friends communicating the same sentiments. Of course, all of this is done under the guise of being funny.
Unfortunately, things can be even worse for the self-esteem of children who actually do have interests that are unusual. Not only are these kids given a hard time by their peers, in many cases, they also receive self-esteem damaging flak from their parents. Again, this hurtful feedback is often couched in humor, or are compliments that are dripping in snarky patronizing.
Who hasn't witnessed a pre-teen or teenager turn three shades of red as one of their parents describes their interests in mocking or patronizing terms? Instead, we should always be positive and encouraging when it comes to our children's hobbies.
3. Discounting Their Emotions
"You're only 16; you don't even know what falling in love means." "It's just a little toy; let your little brother have it." "You're too old to be scared to go down to the basement by yourself?!" "You can just sign up for cheerleading again next year, stop crying." "You have nothing to be anxious about; you're only 12 years old."
How many times have we as parents said similar words or heard those words spoken by other parents?
Why do we assume that just because children have different experiences and expectations as they age that the emotions they feel right now, are not genuine or worthy of respect? They may view their situation differently when they get older, but it doesn't mean the emotions they are currently feeling are not 100 percent real. Instead, focus on teaching our children how to express and regulate their emotions.
4. Publicly Shaming Them as Punishment
We've all seen this: the viral videos posted on Facebook of parents screaming at and berating their children for the world to see. We've seen children tearfully answering embarrassing and pointed questions or holding signs announcing their misdeeds. We've even seen kids given humiliating haircuts on these videos! Parents have even had their children stand on street corners holding signs that labeled them as liars or thieves.
These things may seem horrific and humiliating to us. We may even openly criticize the parents who do these things, but before we pass judgment, many of us should examine our own interactions with our children. How many times have we expressed exasperation and displeasure with them in front of their friends? How many times have we loudly scolded them in earshot of other adults, not for their benefit, but to ensure that other parents knew that we were handling the situation?
5. Not Letting Them Do Things for Themselves
People reading this may be thinking that this is about helicopter parenting. They are right to an extent. Micromanaging children can damage their self-esteem by making them feel incapable and helpless, but helicopter parents aren't the only parents who are guilty of hurting their children in this way.
Some parents do this by focusing only on the mistakes the child is making while learning to do something new. Other parents spend their time fixing their child's minor errors rather than focusing on the child's efforts. When we keep our mouths shut, our exasperated sighs often convey our disapproval and sting just as badly, or worse, as our words.
6. Not Having Conversations with Them
Many parents spend lots of time talking to their children. They deliver instructions and orders. They issue corrections, and they levy criticisms. They also lecture and explain. What they do not spend enough time doing is simply communicating with and interacting with their children by having conversations with them.
Worse, many parents will take what could be a conversation and turn it into a lecture simply because a child handled a situation differently than they would have. The children in these situations are left feeling dejected and discouraged. Not only have they been the target of harsh criticism, they have been shown that their parents are not interested in interacting with them.
When we speak with our children, help them learn, accept, and value their emotions. We will not only help them feel more confident and secure, but we will help them do better, in all aspects of their lives.