Parents & Children: Parental Tactics That Could Damage Your Child's Self-Esteem

Parents & Children: Parental Tactics That Could Damage Your Child's Self-Esteem
by Sheila O'Connor

How often do you nag your child to finish his homework? Or when your child has been naughty, saying to her "Just wait till your father gets home?" It's easy to do and no parent is guilt free. But did you know that some of the parenting techniques you use, even with the best of intentions, can damage your relationship with your child and worse still, can lower your child's self-esteem?
Every parent wants to impart self-esteem on their child, but how can you be sure your child will grow up with a healthy amount of this valuable asset? The first thing to do is avoid self-defeating tactics. Nobody ever said life would be easy, but children who have good self-esteem are more readily able to take the knocks of life and to bounce back.
At the same time, they are less able to be manipulated by others and can make their own judgments about what is right or wrong (this is particularly crucial during the teenage years when peer pressure is strong and your child is likely to be coerced into trying such things as drinking, smoking and drugs).
So just what are the tactics that parents use that could damage their child's self-esteem in the first place? These include such things as bribes, threats, nagging, criticizing, spanking, buck passing and even insincere praise.
Take bribes, for instance. It's so tempting to use this. "If you clean up your room, you can have some candy" or "if you feed the dog you can have your allowance this week." While rewarding is okay, Ed Bliss, who lectures in child development, advises against using bribes.
"Children need to learn they have to do some things because they're responsible family members, not because they are paid."
Threats too are no better, according to Bliss. "Because we often let our children get away with things, they learn that the first threat is meaningless because you don't follow through and they then assume other threats will be too. If you do have to threaten, make sure you carry the threat out."
Another threat often used is that of abandonment. But look at this from the child's point of view ("If you don't stop this tantrum now, I will leave the supermarket without you.") He believes you will actually abandon him although he is helpless and can't do anything for himself, particularly if he's very young. "He tells himself that's how much you love him. This does nothing for his sense of security or self-esteem," says Bliss.
And what about nagging? The trouble here is the parent starts assuming responsibility for the child. "Have you finished your assignment yet?" The child never learns to be responsible for her own behavior-fundamental if her self-esteem is to grow.
If instead of nagging you do nothing, there will be a natural consequence of your child's failure to act, e.g. the child is scolded by her teacher. A child who undergoes the humiliation of being reprimanded will be sure to hand in her assignments promptly thereafter.
Another way you can teach your child about responsibility is to make the punishment fit the "crime". If your three-year-old covers the wall in lipstick, the logical retribution isn't that he must now clean it up. This will teach him that it's time-consuming and not worthwhile doing the same thing again (in some cases, you may have to finish the job yourself or even repaint the wall, but the principle is what's important). An older child may have to have his allowance used to buy the paint for redecorating the wall. This way, you're letting your child accept the consequences of his actions.
While it's tempting to step in and help your child avoid these painful experiences, Bliss advises, "A mistake is not a blot for eternity, but rather a chance for the child to learn there is a penalty involved. As a parent you need to let your child go through this so she will learn."
Another way parents try to help their child to "learn" is to point out their mistakes. Even if given with the best intentions, however, the child often resents this criticism. Children need positive, not negative, recognition to enhance their self-esteem. "The job of a parent is to catch her child doing something right," says Bliss.
At the same time, however, don't give false praise. Your child will detect it and eventually he'll lose trust in you.
Instead, find something that you genuinely can praise. "You didn't pass the spelling test, but your marks have gone up since last time and you've been studying very hard. I'm very pleased with that." This is what Bliss calls "money in the bank" because you've acknowledged that your child has achieved something and given him recognition for that.
When a child does something wrong, most experts agree that spanking should be avoided as a means of discipline. In the short term this tactic works, but long-term it just builds resentment.
"A child who is spanked and feels it was too mild reasons that he got what he wanted so it was worth the trade off. If he feels you spanked him too hard he'll feel you haven't been fair and this will lead to resentment and even rebellion," says Bliss.
And a parent should never use the buck-passing threat of "just wait until your father gets home." Even two hours of wait is an eternity for your child and by then there's no relation to the already-forgotten incident and the punishment. It only leads to confusion for your child. The punishment (time out, withholding of allowance etc.) should be carried out there and then.
By look at some of the parenting tactics you use in a new light you can help improve your child's self-esteem and with it the loving relationship that exists between you and your child.