Self-esteem in children: why it is important to strengthen it (and not give them failures)

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Excessive criticism and harsh words can undermine self-esteem. When there is no dialogue between parents and children and misunderstandings increase, the risk is the development of feelings of mortification and incapacity which can also lead to extreme consequences.

Strengthen children's self-esteem from an early age and keeping an open dialogue is the key to increasing safety in their abilities and in themselves, as explained to us by Dr. Lavinia Barone, psychologist and psychotherapist, professor at the University of Pavia and head of the Attachment Laboratory and LAG Parenting ( and the DBT (Dialectical Beahavior Therapy, program.

When self-esteem begins to develop

Self-esteem begins to form from birth and takes on different meanings depending on the age. Under the age of two we talk about loving care, that is, the feeling for the little one that someone is taking care of his needs.

From 2 years onwards, the way of feeling changes and the sense of mastering objects, movements, and of being effective prevails: everything that gives meaning to one's strength, even physical, is a component that joins the one developed in precedence and which forms the basis of self-esteem.

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The influence of the parents

The younger the child, the more the parent has a bearing on the development of his or her self-esteem. It is necessary to give the right support and to raise your child with the certainty of being able to face small and big obstacles.

«The parent must not overdo it in criticism, because the risk is to make the child experience the feeling of not being able to do things and of diminishing his abilities. However, we must also pay attention to excessive protection, an overprotective parent who intervenes in place of the child, sends him back the idea of ​​not being sufficiently capable and good ".

The help from the parent must therefore not be a direct movement, but only a support.

It helps more to find a space for dialogue and encourage the child to open up and then find his own solutions, rather than directly intervening or opposing.

Pre-adolescence and adolescence: potentially critical developmental moments

Around the age of 12, children stop being children and show a greater sensitivity to the judgment of others, especially that of their peers. Several attempts at autonomy begin, which today are speeded up by new technologies. “It is a delicate moment, parents often no longer recognize that child they raised as a child. The changes in the attitude, the rebellious behavior, however, hide a request for connection and to be understood ».

FURTHER DETAIL: How to help children deal with failure

At this stage, parents can become hypercritical and children begin to accumulate a series of failures, usually in school. Adults fail to recognize their child's point of view, criticism is inconsistent and it becomes difficult for the child to understand, with a heavy impact on his self-esteem.

Lack of listening and low self-esteem: what the consequences can be

It's not just criticism that creates potentially extreme situations. When the parents are not on the same wavelength, when one is hypercritical and the other too protective, or does not intervene, the child is convinced of having to create special alliances to be able to manage the relationship with the parents.

"There must be references even when there is a diversity of opinions, children need an example, a guide, to know that there is a real listening space. It's okay to keep rules and values, but there mustn't be a priori "no" ». If this form of communication is lacking, teens will seek out means of escape, shame will become predominant and self-esteem will diminish, feeling only a great sense of failure. All elements that can lead children to tragic gestures not only towards others, but also towards themselves, such as self-harm or eating problems.

Exercises or activities to increase self-esteem: there is no general rule

There is no specific activity to increase self-esteem. From sports, to music, to theater, to drawing and writing, all activities can help.

«The important thing is always the relationship with others and there is no single formula, but everyone must find the right activity that helps him develop a sense of satisfaction and leads it to be fulfilled. The boy must feel satisfied in an activity in which he feels capable ».

Updated on 16.02.2022

  • esteem
  • Parents
  • teens
  • 1-2 children years
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