What influences contribute to a child's level of self-esteem?

July 11, 1997|By Dr. James Dobson

Question: You say beauty and intelligence are the most critical factors in shaping self-esteem and confidence. What other influences contribute to the child's level of self-confidence?

Dr. Dobson: Let me list some of the more common variables that relate to self-worth in our culture:

1. Parents have a remarkable power to preserve or damage the self-esteem of a child. Their manner either conveys respect and love or disappointment and disinterest.

2. Older siblings can crush the confidence of a younger, weaker child. The little one never can run as fast, or fight as well, or achieve as much as his big brothers and sisters.

And if his words are perpetually matters of scorn, he easily can conclude that he is foolish and incapable.

3. Early social blunders and mistakes are sometimes extremely painful, being remembered throughout a lifetime.

4. Financial hardship, depriving a child of the clothes and lifestyle of his peers, can cause a child to feel inferior. It is not the poverty itself that does the damage. Rather, it is the relative comparison with others.


It is possible to feel deprived when you are truly rich by the world's standards.

5. Disease, even when unapparent, may represent the child's "inner flaw." A cardiac condition, or other disorder, which forces Mom to nag and beg him to slow down, can convince a child that he is brittle and defective.

6. A child who has been raised in a protected environment, such as a farm or a foreign missionary outpost, may be embarrassed by his underdeveloped social skills. His tendency is to pull inward in shy withdrawal.

7. Embarrassing family characteristics, such as having an alcoholic father or a mentally handicapped sibling, can produce feelings of inferiority through close identification.

Unfortunately, this list could be almost endless. In working with the problem of inadequacy, I have drawn this conclusion: Whereas a child can lose self-esteem in a thousand ways, the careful reconstruction of his personal worth is usually a slow, difficult process.

James Dobson is a psychologist, author and president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

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