Can parents cause low self-esteem?

What's Covered

According to a statistic that was published last March 11, 2020 in the US alone, there are 677,529 reported cases of child abuse in 2018 and the most common form of maltreatment is neglect. As heartbreaking as it is, there are still many unreported cases of child abuse not just in the US and it is causing its toll on children’s self-esteem. As parents, we all want the best future for our children. But what if we are causing their downfall instead? What if we are doing the parenting the wrong way? Can parents really cause low self-esteem to their children?

Why is a healthy self-esteem important?

                Having a healthy self-esteem is very important on your child’s growth and future. Self-esteem boost confidence allowing children to explore, learn, have fun and discover what they can do. It is their foundation of their success. Having a healthy self-esteem means your child is set for life. However, it is sad that there are children that suffers from low self-esteem caused by abusive, neglectful, or very strict parents.

Children with low self-esteem tend to keep to themselves and not participate in anything that they think will lead them to failure especially when there are other people watching. They are indecisive and they lack social skills. They are shy and keep to themselves. They also do not take kindly to criticism and praises as they think they do not deserve it.

How does self-esteem develops?

Self-esteem develops starts at an early age of 0- 1 year old. If a baby feels safe and accepted and loved, their self-esteem starts to develop. As babies grows older, they explore and try new things. With the right attitude and guidance, the child will feel proud of the new things they can do like walk, talk and run. You will notice that the child is happy, confident and take healthy risks.

As the child grows into toddlers and their parents let them try new things or praise for their good behavior, their self-esteem grows as well. This cycle continue until the child’s self-esteem is fully developed and they can take on the world.

However, many factors affect a person’s self-esteem. One of these are the parents. Do you know that being too strict or too lenient can cause a child’s low self-esteem? There are some things we say or do that affects their self-esteem and we may have been doing them unconsciously.

How does a parent’s behavior towards their children affect their self-esteem?

As parents, we want to give our children the best of everything. We want them to feel loved, cherished and protected. If you are too strict or over protective or if you do not allow their children to explore and have fun on their own, you are subjecting your child to depend on you for everything. Not only that, this could also cause your child to be indecisive as they will depend on you as their parents to make decisions for them. They will eventually become unhappy, frustrated, and confused.

Types of Parenting

According to a research done that focuses on parent-child relationships, there are two dimensions of parenting: Demandingness which refers to control, maturity, demands and supervision and responsiveness which refers to the affection, warmth, acceptance and involvement. From these two dimensions, four classifications have been described. Can you distinguish where you fall based on the description below?

Authoritative parents

They are the kind of parents that make demands from their children but respond to what they needs. They are the kind that is actively participating in their child’s progress. They trust, guides and shape their children, keeps an open communication between both parties but maintain a strict behavior and monitoring control.

Authoritarian parents

Authoritarian parents make demands but does not respond to what their children needs. This is more adult than child-centered. Authoritarian parents have high level of psychological control. They show lack of affinitive relationships with their children. They also lack of trust and affection towards them and their children feels they are being criticized most of the time.

Permissive parents

This type of parenting is opposite to Authoritarian parents. They are responsive but do not demand anything from their children in return. They dote on their children, shows them love and affection but they lack control over them. They allow their children to behave independently.

Neglectful parents

These type of parents are often the narcissist ones. They do not want to get involve to their children or promote healthy relationship with them. They are not monitoring their children’s progress or well-being.

There are parents who fit into more than one parenting style so do not despair that you tend to be on the permissive side or authoritarian parenting side. However, it is clear that the authoritative parenting style is the best and we as parents should strive to be one or at least learn to be more authoritative. [1]

How do you know if your child has low self-esteem?

If you suspect that your child has low self-esteem and is possibly being bullied at school, you may want to check these telltale signs that your child is suffering from low self-esteem.

Failing Grades

One way to know if your child has low self-esteem is if they have good grades then suddenly it took a dramatic turn downhill. You might want to investigate the reason why first.

Avoiding new task or challenges

Children loves to try new stuff especially if they are having fun. If you observe your child not wanting to participate in a game or quit because of a minor roadblock, he or she may have a fear of failure or criticism and that is a sign that they lack self-esteem or confidence.

Changing Moods

Your child shows sadness, crying, angry outburst, frustrations, quietness, and sometimes even physically abuse themselves. They are rash, crude on some people and they talk back when confronted and tell you a bold faced lie.


                         A child with low self-esteem would usually say “I am ugly”, or “I can’t do it”, or “why is everybody better than me?” If your child has been saying these words, it is possible that they are being bullied at school and they have low self-esteem. They think they are unworthy and therefore does not even want to make an effort to get better.

Difficulty accepting criticism and praise

                         Children with low self-esteem often shy away from the spotlight. They do not want to be criticized nor praised. They just want to be left alone on their own. They do not want to accept praise mainly because they do not think it is an honest feedback and that they fail or will fail miserably later on.


A person that has low self-esteem is also indecisive and is fearful of making a decision. They depend on others to decide for them. They are also known to evade the question “what do you think” as they think they are not qualified to voice out their opinion on the matter. They would usually say “I don’t know” or “Why are you asking me?”


                A person that has low self-esteem is often negative and usually provides negative feedback. If you try to wish them luck for example when they are applying for a job, they will only shrug and say “I don’t think I’ll pass.” They think negatively because of the previous experiences they had and they think it would always be the same. They are always expecting the worst to make themselves ready for the failure so they will not hurt much when it happens.


People with low self-esteem not only thinks negatively. They also do not trust anyone or they at least are having difficulty trusting anybody. They keep to themselves and is often alone. That is also the reason why are socially challenged.

                There are other signs that you should look for if you are suspecting that your child has low self-esteem. And if you are already suspecting that your child is suffering from low self-esteem. It is also essential to avoid saying these commonly used phrases parents use to their children.[2]

Commonly used words parents use that affect a child’s self-esteem

“You can never do anything right!”

If you are constantly saying this to your child, they will lose their self-confidence. It is like saying “you are a failure no matter what you do”. Avoid saying such things. Instead, why don’t you say something like, “I am sad that you failed your exam but I know you can do better next time! Would you like me to help you study?” Say it in a way that you are empathizing with what happened and that you understand your child’s frustration but at the same time instilling that he or she still needs to improve.

“I am so disappointed in you!”

When you say you are disappointed, it means your child did not reach whatever goal you set for them. It is frustrating and disappointing, yes. But never take it out on your child especially if you saw that they did their best. If you think your emotion is high, before answering and hurting your child, take a deep breath and exhale. Do this until your mind clears before speaking. It is okay to feel sad and disappointed but do not blame them if they did not meet your standards. Instead of saying you are disappointed, why don’t you use phrase like “I will always be proud of you even if you lose.” or “You did your best and that’s all that matters, next time why don’t we try doing…” Show them you love and accept them even if they fail. This is also the best time to show them that failure is not the end of the world but rather the start of something new.

Why can’t you be more like….

Comparing your child to someone else, be it their siblings, cousin, friend or neighbor is taking a toll on your child’s self-esteem. It seems like you are comparing them to others because they are not worthy enough for you. Instead of comparing them to others, be proud of their achievements. Everyone has their own timeline and spotlight. Wait for your child’s turn. Make them feel loved and appreciated always.

These kind of phrases are common on parents that are authoritarian. Permissive parents and doting ones are also guilty of contributing to their child’s self-esteem.

“Don’t worry about it!”

Saying do not worry about it is okay. However, if you say it your child often after they commit a mistake, you are giving them permission to commit a mistake and not be punished for it. Instead of saying “do not worry about it”, why don’t you say “what you did is wrong, but I will let it pass for now. However, next time you do this, there would be a consequence…” and make sure that you follow through on what you said.[3]

William Chapman says “words cut deeper than knives. A knife can be pulled out. Words are embedded to our souls.” This is true on every level. As adults, we do not want to offend someone by saying harsh words and act rashly, so we always think before we act. We should do the same with our kids especially since they look up at us and depend on us for guidance and support. They were given to us for a reason and we should always cherish them. But what should you do if your child has low self-esteem? How can you boost your child’s self-esteem especially when it is already low?

Boosting your child’s self-esteem

Parents play a vital role in boosting a child’s self-esteem and it would be a challenge for a parent to boost it especially when they are the cause of the low self-esteem in the first place. Here are some tips you might find useful.

Earning your child’s trust

Earning your child’s trust is the first step. You need to gain your child’s trust in order for you to have an impact on your child’s life. And one sure way to gain it is by spending time with them. Children with low self-esteem has trust issues already so it would be hard at first. But if you keep at it, you will grow on them eventually and they will accept that you are a permanent thing in their world.

Talk to your child

Once you have established that connection, you may talk to them about things. Do not accuse them or talk negatively. Talk about something light. Smile and let them know that you want to get to know them better. Cook for them or sat down to dinner with them and ask them how their day was. Small talks go a long way. You will find that it is easier to talk to children as you continue doing so and you may even learn new things.


One way to earn their trust is to follow through on your promises. If you say you will be on the baseball game, do it. Do not commit if you won’t be able to. It will only lead to heartache and disappointment and the trust you gain will be lost and you will find yourself back to square one. Be there for them. It will give them a sense of security and comfort and before you know it, they will open up to you.

Secrets and confessions

When your child tell you a secret, make sure you do your best to keep it that way. That means they are testing your truthfulness. Keep your advices simple so they understand. At this stage, you have probably won your child back as they begin trusting you with their secrets. Learn to appreciate it.

Coaxing your children to help around the house

Once you establish a good relationship with your children, let them help you with household chores. These will not only serve as a bonding moment, it creates a huge impact with your child’s self- esteem as they will feel like their contribution is valued and that you are trusting them to do it. You will boost your child’s self-confidence that they can finally do something on their own.


You can slowly coax your child into the right direction by saying “I think you have a knack of……” or “Have you tried joining the basketball team?” or “You are very good at drawing, would you like to develop it?” Simple praises and a bit of coaxing will have them try to pursue what they want to do. If your child says “No”, don’t push. Just say “okay, let me know if you change your mind” or “no pressure”. You have already planted the seed, just let it go and watch as it grow. Just make sure you still praise them from time to time. But do ask them if they want to try out again. Let them come to you. And once they do, give them your undivided attention and support. After all, this is the first time they are taking a step outside their comfort zone.

Coping with Failures

It will take a lot of your child’s courage to finally step out of their comfort zone and try new things. Make sure to be there for them. Cheer them and provide moral support. However, not because your child is gifted or they have tried, it means they will be successful. Prepare yourself because if they fail, you need to be there to comfort them. Make them feel accepted and loved. Do not belittle them as they will shrink back to where they are before. Let them know that failure is normal. Cite one of your experience with failure and how you deal with it. It makes it more real that you have experienced and felt what they are feeling at the moment. It is also the best opportunity to boost their self-esteem.

Find something that you both enjoy and make sure you make time for it.

Another way to earn your child’s trust is to find something you both enjoy and make sure that you have time to do it with them. Finding a common ground will get you to the same page. If your child loves eating a dish, make sure you prepare it for them once a week or once every two weeks. It will make them feel special and before you know it, they are already looking forward to that treat.

Creating Rules

And once you have established a good and healthy relationship with your children, you need to lay rules, consequences, and incentives. But make sure to discuss with them the reason behind every rules, consequences and incentives. Compromise a little if they have voiced out their concerns, but do not let them boss you around. That way, they know that they are heard and that their opinion counts.[4]

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Final thoughts

“Your words as a parent have great power. Use them wisely and make sure they come from the heart” – Carolina King (Mama Instincts). The future and the lives of our children depends on how we treat them. If you treat your children as obligations, they become a burden. But treat them as a blessing and your life and home will be filled with happiness and contentment.

[1] Rezai Niaraki, F., & Rahimi, H. (2013). The impact of authoritative, permissive and authoritarian behavior of parents on self-concept, psychological health and life quality. European Online Journal of Natural and Social Sciences2(1), pp-78.

[2] Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Understanding the inner nature of low self-esteem: Uncertain, fragile, protective, and conflicted. In Self-esteem (pp. 201-218). Springer, Boston, MA.

[3] Steele, B. F. (1975). Working with Abusive Parents from a Psychiatric Point of View.

[4] McDowell, J. (2008). The Father Connection: How You Can Make the Difference in Your Child’s Self-Esteem and Sense of Purpose. B&H Publishing Group.

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Diana Lucas

Diana Lucas

Hi, Diana here. Welcome to my blog and hope you like my sharing. I am a mother of 2 boys, 3 years old and a 1 year old. I dedicate my career in child development research and I focus on parenting tips, positive parenting, educational toys for my babies. Your time here means a lot to me! Diana A. Lucas