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A Self Fulfilling Prophecy - Part 2 - Building Positive Self Esteem In Children

May 8, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Chana Heller

Parents are like a mirror, reflecting back their children's self-image. What your children see is what you'll get.

What do you really think about your child?

Usually, what we think about our children will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A klutz will be a klutz. A troublemaker will make trouble. I remember a woman telling me how she was having difficulties in math when she was in elementary school. Her mother said to her, "No one in our family is good in math. I wasn't good at math, your father wasn't good at math, your sister isn't good in math. No wonder you're having a hard time. I'm sure you'll be good at something else." How much of a chance did she stand to do well in math?

It is important that the parents model responsible behaviors as well.

On the other hand, children who are called responsible when they exhibit responsible behaviors, and whose parents have reasonable expectations in that area, are more likely to end up being truly responsible children. (It is important, of course that the parents model responsible behaviors as well.)

In Judaism, when a parent names a child it is a very significant act of defining the child's essence. Similarly, the other names we call our children (such as "stupid," "idiot," "irresponsible") also have a significant impact on who our children will become.

If we have a positive view of our children they are likely to feel the same about themselves.

Are your children totally delightful? If you believe this, as most parents do, are you communicating this to your children? How are you doing this?

It is crucial to delight in our children. If we delight in our children, they will learn to delight in themselves. We need to do this in every stage.


Self-esteem actually begins to be built in infancy. Infants have a philosophy about life and their place in the scheme of things. If the infant feels well taken care of -- is well fed, changed promptly, soothed when upset, held lovingly, delighted in etc. -- he will feel that the world is a loving place and that he or she is important in it.

The loving care we give our infants tells them that they are important to us.

As the child grows, take pleasure in every new stage. It is easy and natural to delight in our child's learning to crawl, walk, and talk. Every time we express our delight to our child we are saying, "You give me incredible pleasure." This is an essential component of self-esteem. The feeling that "I can give people pleasure" can't help but make a child feel good about himself or herself.

As children grow older it is more challenging to delight in them. Whining, tantrums and other demanding behaviors can be so frequent that we find ourselves not getting the kind of pleasure we used to get. We focus on the problem behaviors and tend to overlook the things we need to be emphasizing in order to continue to build their positive self-esteem.

Let your children know that they are a pleasure to be around. Look for things to take pleasure in every day, such as when children are cooperative or dressed on time, use forks and spoons properly, learn to ride a bike or read, ask a good question, make a good decision, use time well, etc. Even in the most difficult times we can find something to appreciate, whether it be their strong will, curiosity, independence, energy, zest for life or the fact that they DO eventually go to sleep at night!

Every time we delight in our children it is fuel for their self-esteem.

Every time we delight in our children it is fuel for their self-esteem. We see this very clearly when our toddlers repeat behaviors over and over again which give us a positive charge.

Children will have a much easier time valuing themselves if they are valued by their parents. Dorothy Briggs, the author of Your Child's Self Esteem, says that parents are like a mirror, creating the child's self image. We reflect back to them who we think they are and they take it in as the absolute truth. They are not critical of our evaluation of them until they get much older, when the damage is largely done.

If a mother constantly calls her child a troublemaker and goes on about with her friends, in front of the child, about his recent troublesome behaviors, then the child will most likely internalize this image and work very hard to live up to it. Conversely, a child who hears about her capabilities is likely to grow up being capable.

Let your child know how highly you think of him or her. Keep a notebook and write in it one thing you said today to convey this message. If you see that this does not come naturally and that days go by without having anything to write, then you will need to work harder at making positive daily comments. Hugs, facial expressions and certain gestures also convey the message as well.

In future articles we will explore the importance of spending time with your children so they feel valued, how to most effectively praise a child and how too much criticism diminishes a child's self-image as well as other related topics.

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