Question:

My twelve year old daughter often tells me that no one likes her, that she feels like she's not worth anything and that nobody cares about her. She's uncomfortable going out with friends and agonizes hours over the things she said or didn't say and what her friends now think about her because of what she did or didn't do. How can I boost her self-esteem?

Answer:

It's very painful for anyone to feel unloved. Sometimes, when children have a hard time respecting and appreciating themselves, they will, perhaps wrongly, surmise that their peers don't either respect or appreciate them. Since their own appraisal of themselves may not be realistic, their feelings about the way others perceive them are very possibly based on their imagination.

Other People's Judgment

It would be helpful for you to explain to your daughter that since we cannot control what other people think about us, we could only control what we say, she should learn to rely on her judgment. If at the moment of the conversation she felt, that what she said was the right thing to say, it was probably the right thing to have said. Help her put a stop to prophesizing. What the person is thinking, she'll never know. She's not living in another person's head, how could she know? More importantly, what difference does it make what she thinks? No one's thoughts determine your daughter's worth as a person.

Worthy of Love

Your daughter, like every human being, has tremendous value. She is a unique individual created by G‑d. Her ability to recognize her intrinsic, indisputable goodness based on the fact that she has a G‑dly soul and that she is forever tied to the source of all goodness will build her self-esteem. We say in the morning prayers, "the soul that You have placed in me is pure." This purity is based neither on your daughter's evaluation of herself, nor on other people's evaluation of her. We are innately good, we are children of G‑d and His love for us is eternal.

A child feels loved by others and by G‑d only if he or she truly believes that she is intrinsically worthy of love. Building our children's self-image is vital. Our children must feel good about who they are and the ideals that they stand for. Only this will enable them to stand strong and withstand the pressures of society which threatens to consume them and frustrate their ability to build future happy lives, both in this world and the next.

Modeling Self-Esteem

For children and teens to exhibit self-esteem, parents need to model self-esteem. They too need to feel competent and capable in their own lives, or the teen will sense otherwise and have trouble generating self-esteem. Parents can develop self-esteem by remembering their innate self worth and by finding their G‑d given talents and strengths, developing them, setting goals and accomplishing those goals.

Children look outside themselves for a model on which to pattern their behavior and attitudes. They look around and start behaving like everybody else. They have amazing antennas which are highly alert to your feelings. That's why they're also so susceptible to putdowns and criticism of their abilities. If an adult tells a child that he or she is lazy, the child will believe them and as a result will behave that way in a self-fulfilling prophesy (labeling is disabling).

However, self-esteem is not built merely by showering them with effusive statements like, "you're terrific" or "you're the best." Not only do these platitudes fail to pin-point the child's specific strengths or successes, which by the way, we ourselves must be aware of and appreciate, they also lose their value through overuse. A parent who feels good about herself will convey her positive self-image to her child which in itself has a tremendous influence on the way the child values herself. Furthermore, a parent who recognizes her strengths and talents will be able to recognize them in her children as well.

Nevertheless, those who are truly strong are those who recognize that their strength is not dependant on their own limited abilities but in their connectedness to G‑d. No matter how great we may feel about ourselves, we are in essence limited. The more we can instill in our children the knowledge that G‑d is constantly with us, and that He loves us with an infinite love, the more solid, stable and enduring will be their self-esteem and their ability to withstand societal pressures and disapproval.

In a few blog I will point out some practical tips on enhancing self-esteem in children.