Evidence-based ways to help your child regain their self esteem

New Content Item (1)

What you need to know:

  • From an early stage, identify and nurture your child's unique abilities and gifts.
  • A few years ago, Sylvia left a death note for her mother, in which she lamented being a failure and a disappointment to her and the family.
  • Teach your child to be realistic about their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Unrealistic demands on themselves will wear them down, especially if their goals hit a dead end.

In April 2021 a 2020 KCPE candidate in Kitui attempted to take his own life after failing to get his results. Devastated over the missing results, and the possibility of a ruined future, the boy took a concoction of pesticides. The boy’s grandmother, together with villagers, rushed him to a local health centre where medics administered an antidote to neutralise the harmful chemical he had swallowed.

This is the same pressure that may have led Rosemarie Wanyonyi’s daughter to lose her sense of self-worth and attempt suicide. “Sometimes we pile pressure on our children. I could have lost my child just because I was pressuring her to perform as well as a neighbour’s son,” she says.

Rosemarie, a nurse, admits that she used rough parenting methods such as shaming and shouting to get her daughter to toe the line. “I never stopped to think about how my comments affected her. I thought I was challenging her to be better like her friends,” she says regretfully.

While Rosemarie’s daughter was lucky to have escaped death, other children like class eight pupil Sylvia Wanjiku from Kathiani, Mercy Chebet from Kericho, and Douglas Ndeti from Nakuru were not lucky. A few years ago, Sylvia left a death note for her mother, in which she lamented being a failure and a disappointment to her and the family. In early 2012, Mercy told her mother and siblings jokingly that she was tired of living as a failure and was going to end her life. Nobody took her seriously. A few days later, her body was found dangling from the roof of their house.

While many children have not gone to such extremes, they still suffer inadequacies resulting from a sense of low self-worth. According to child therapist Rachel Awino, children are pushed into low self-esteem by demoralising and hurtful remarks given consciously or unconsciously by parents, peers, and teachers.  “Children will tend to consume what those around them say about them and internalise them as fact and final. If the remarks are too derogatory or demeaning, the child is likely to feel inadequate and worthless,” says Rachel.

She cautions against comparative statements, saying that they may start to view themselves as unworthy. “When you angrily shout or rebuke your child with comments like, ‘You’re a good-for-nothing trouble maker, why can’t you be like your sister?’ or ‘Why can’t you be like Josh? All you do is play and cause problems!’ he or she may feel vindicated that he or she isn’t normal or worthy like his sister or Josh.”

Your child could develop feelings of hatred and anger towards those you’re comparing him with, towards you, towards himself, have a low self-drive, and may even turn suicidal. “I learned the hard way. The words you say to your child can either build or destroy them. I nearly took my daughter to the grave with my utterances,” says Rosemarie.

While she prays that the thought of committing suicide never comes back, Rosemarie has taken the bull by the horns by teaching and helping her child to have a better, positive sense of self. “I felt guilty and saw a family therapist. Now I know better. My child’s future success does not solely depend on her academic performance,” she says. “I have learned to identify her other abilities and talents.”

She says that her child is good at singing and playing piano, and she has scheduled weekend classes for her to harness her unique abilities. “I keep telling her that she does not have to be like the rest and should not feel bad when she fails. It’s part of life.” Her efforts have borne fruits. She has grown closer with her daughter. In return, her daughter is happier, more optimistic, and positive about life. According to Rachel, optimism, creativity, and healthy interactions are signs that a child is developing a high sense of self.

What to do

  • Teach your child to be realistic about their goals, dreams, and aspirations. Unrealistic demands on themselves will wear them down, especially if their goals hit a dead end.
  • Teach your child how to cope with failure. Help them understand that setbacks are opportunities to learn and make corrections. It is important for them to know and understand that they cannot always have their way in life.
  • Stop pushing your child to live your life. This includes pushing them to do the things you wish you did in your childhood. If you had a passion for science but they don't, resist the temptation to force sciences down their throats.
  • Stop or avoid comparing your child with his or her siblings, friends, or age-mates. They will know you don’t favour them and the repercussions on their sense of self-esteem will be dire.
  • Help them understand the value of contentment. Teach them that they cannot always have their way or get whatever they want.
  • Create or strengthen support systems that they can lean on or turn to when in social or emotional turmoil. You can begin by showing them that you are there for them whenever they need you.
  • From an early stage, identify and nurture their unique abilities and gifts. This will help them to maximize what they are best at. There are multiple extra-curricular talent programs that you can enroll them in.
  • Give your child praise when necessary and appropriate discipline where required. 


Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.