How can we help our children develop self-esteem?
January 1979

“How can we help our children develop self-esteem?” Ensign, Jan. 1979, 14–15

We recognize the importance of helping our children develop self-esteem, but we aren’t sure how to do this and teach them right from wrong at the same time. Can you give us some help?

Paul and Marie Bergeson, Tempe Ninth Ward, Tempe Arizona Stake, parents of five daughters Although not successful in every instance, several principles have served us well throughout the years.

First, we believe that the best parents work themselves out of a job. This means that helping a child acquire the skills to solve his own problems is better than simply telling him to do a task or doing it for him. Eventually the parent need no longer be the child’s constant overseer.

When a child complains about a problem, parents may feel it their duty to pass judgment or offer the child hasty advice. But such a reaction robs the child of a precious opportunity to think out the problem for himself and reach his own decision.

Since wisdom and good judgment are developed gradually, parents must take time to teach children—by hearing them out as they learn to describe and analyze a problem, to think of alternative solutions, and to make a decision. Unless the situation is dangerous to our children’s well-being, we usually try not to impose solutions. Sometimes the children choose incorrectly and must experience the consequences, but the next time they do better.

Children who begin this process at a young age develop good self-esteem because they learn that they can handle most situations. By the time they are ready for missions, military service, or marriage, they are self-starters, needing no one to tell them which socks to wear or when to bathe or how to budget their money. We try to avoid dos and don’ts, phrasing our responses this way: “Tell me about your problem,” “What do you think is the best thing to do?” and later, “Well, how did your plan work?”

Discipline is an inevitable part of child-rearing, but it can leave a child’s self-esteem intact. We have found that we should let the child know we are angry or disappointed, but physical or verbal abuse solves nothing. Statements such as “I am disappointed” or “I am angry,” are better than “You are bad” or “Why are you so stupid?” The children understand we are angry but we have not belittled them or engaged them in a power struggle. The best time for discussing problems is often in the parents’ bedroom or outside under a tree when tempers have cooled—wherever a child can express feelings without feeling threatened.

Parents also need to allow children to experience natural consequences. If John was marked tardy at school because he stayed in bed too long, or Jane couldn’t go to the movie because she didn’t finish her Saturday work, they will begin to develop responsibility for their actions. We have found that nagging, on the other hand, doesn’t help us teach responsibility. Instead, it often makes a child more defiant.

We believe that a child may be indulged too much but not loved too much. Affection and compliments flow in a steady stream at our home. The children relate the day’s activities at dinner time and we all rejoice in their accomplishments. If we have to express disappointment, we do so honestly and in private, without attacking the child himself.

Finally, family scripture reading each morning gives us the chance to emphasize responsibility for making right choices. We have been able to teach the beauty and importance of each child in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. No idea has done more to help develop self-esteem.