What is self-esteem?

A child has either high self-esteem or low self-esteem. Self-esteem is what the child thinks about himself subconsciously. Self-esteem is the ‘self-talk’ going on in the child subconsciously (without him or her knowing about it). What is the inner voice telling the child? It can be positive (‘anything is possible’) or negative (‘it’s not possible’). Whenever we shout, hit, glare or cause fear, his self-esteem slumps. Love, compassion, calmness etc., increase the self-esteem of the child. So, once again, you change and your child will change.

Criticism is the worst thing one can expose a child to. Appreciation is very important and works wonders to boost his self-esteem.


What has to be understood, though, is that we should know when to appreciate and how much to appreciate. It can get very confusing for the parent to draw a line between when to appreciate and when not to, and also how much to appreciate.

Too much of appreciation gives the child a false sense of pride, and he can get thoroughly spoilt in the false belief which you are encouraging him to develop.

When SHOULD you appreciate your child?

The answer to this is that you appreciate a child every time he breaks a boundary or reaches a milestone. For example, you appreciate him when from a crawling stage he begins to stand, or when from this standing-up stage he starts walking; and then, you appreciate him when he walks better or when he jumps a distance of one foot, and, again, when he jumps a distance of two feet for the first time.

It’s always the first few times that you need to express your appreciation for his achievement, but do not make it a habit for repeat performance. In short, you appreciate the child whenever he breaks a ‘boundary set by his own self’, that is, whenever he meets his own challenge. Always remember that even if his new achievement may be only slightly better than his earlier achievement, it should not go unnoticed by you. In other words, appreciate even the slightest effort to get better.



Criticism can be very, very damaging to the child. So, one has to be very alert and careful about what one says to the child, that is, the words one uses when speaking to the child. Constant ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ like “Don’t do this, don’t do that” are very disturbing for a child. Statements of negation like above are also a form of criticism.

The words you use are very important to the child. It is necessary to see how you can use each statement more positively than negatively.

You can change it in such a way that the child does not feel demeaned but understands your feelings and listens to you. 

What you have to remember is that everything should be delivered as a feedback and not out of any negative emotion.

Sometimes we may be very unhappy with the way our child has behaved in a particular situation; this is especially so when he has hurt someone either physically or emotionally or, simply, when he has not followed simple rules like keeping his things in place, not hitting the younger sibling etc. Or, maybe, he has just come home crying after having had a fight with his friend; our immediate response is, “Shut up, don’t cry; why are you crying?”

Instead of saying, “Don’t cry”, you can ask, “What happened?” Instead of “Don’t do it like this”, say, “Come, we will do it like this”; instead of “Don’t keep your slippers there”, turn the ‘don’t’ into a statement: “We don’t keep the slippers here”.


Whenever you say ‘we’, you automatically make it participatory, implying the inclusion of all, whereas when you say ‘you don’t do this’, you begin the finger-pointing game and isolate the child.


If you scold the child or cut off the rebellious spirit in the child, then it is possible that the child does not rebel in front of you, but does so in front of others. It could also happen that he would suppress his rebellious spirit then, and later on it may affect his body (health) or it could even be that he would rebel against you when he grows up. 


It could also happen that later in his life he becomes a passive helpless onlooker of adharma (as is the case with most people of present-day India who don’t stand up against adharma under the excuse of practising ‘ahimsa’).


So the best way is to allow him to express his rebellious nature within safe limits.

When his rebellious act comes to an end, remain silent and don’t say anything to the child at that moment. When the child is about to sleep is when he is very soft and receptive. That is the best time to speak to your child. What you say then is the most important part of the whole episode.


One of the ways is to tell him a related story from which the child may understand the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of that particular situation; the other way, which is very effective, can be executed in 5 steps, which are given below:


Ask the child: “What happened that day?” He may not answer you or may just ignore the question. But make it a point to get the answer from the child. Never ask ‘why something happened’, but definitely ask: “What happened?”

Why should we not ask ‘why’ to the child? 

It is because when you ask ‘why’ to a child, he immediately starts to defend himself as though he is being accused of something; the result is a drop in his self-esteem.

Analyse the situation yourself — what is it that you actually want to know?

You actually want to know the truth of the situation. In other words, you want to know what really happened.

So, if you ask the question ‘what happened?’, then the child feels free to express himself and also feels free of guilt.


Listen affirmatively to his response and then tell him, “I understand that you were upset about something and that is why you behaved like this” or “I know how you feel” or “Everyone is upset at some time or the other”. Let the child speak, and you should acknowledge him totally.


Give him options, like ‘Is it because I spend more time with the younger one that you are upset?’, ‘I did not give you enough attention, is that why you are upset?’, ‘Were you feeling irritated because you got up early (did not complete your sleep)?’ or ‘Were you irritated because you were hungry?’.


Tell him, “We don’t hit people” or “We don’t poke people”. By saying this, you are making a statement or making a rule for everyone in the family — not just for family, it is a universal rule we are implying. 


Give him the reason why we don’t do it. You can tell him that if you hit the younger one, he might get hurt and we might have to take him to the hospital.

You can also tell him that he would not feel good about the fact that his elder brother is hitting him and later he would tend to retaliate when he grows up. Ask her whether she would like that. The situation can be handled this way. It may take a few sessions before the problem is solved.


As mentioned in the other chapters also, if you apply this technique with your child, it will work wonders; it works not just with your child but also with all the people you interact with, be it your spouse, friends, relatives, boss, colleagues etc. This is a very important tool in your armory of communication. Like the expression ‘I understand’, this is an extension of opting to ask ‘What happened?’ instead of ‘Why?’. Just sharing what happened and the reasons for feeling down makes the person feel better. It gives him a feeling of ‘being understood by the other’ — that itself brings about a transformation in his behaviour as well as self-esteem.


When you treat the child this way, gradually you start treating your own self lovingly regardless of all your limitations and all the discomfort you cause to others. You also reason out how always changing yourself is going to be beneficial to you. Thus, it is a training for you to become a better person day by day. This way your child is indirectly becoming your guardian, to bring out the self-forgiving person in you.