Kids with healthy self-esteem: The ingredient that cannot be left out of the recipe!

The other day, I was at an interesting parenting seminar.

The psychologist giving the lecture opened the session by asking us what the single most important aspect of parenting is, regarding raising children with a healthy self-esteem.

Assorted answers rang through the crowd.

“Give ’em lots of hugs and kisses.”

“React to their good and bad actions positively.”

“Praise often and criticize rarely.”

“These were all excellent parenting tips,” Dr. D reassured us, “but what is the essential key to raising children who have great self-esteem?”

More parents called out various parenting advice, until the good Doctor silenced the crowd.

“There is one factor that will determine a child’s level of self-esteem. Parents can mess up in any other area, but if they mess up in this one area, the child is doomed to a low self-image. This is psychological math, it is the reason why children grow up feeling good about themselves.”

We all waited with baited breath, as the psychologist continued.

“The single most important aspect of parenting is conveying the message to your children that they are the source of your joy. They are the reason for your happiness, NOT a deterrent to it!”

He went on to demonstrate this principle with a story. He was visiting a friend who was describing a horrible incident that had recently occurred. She referred to the terrible day as a “snow day”. On that awful snow day, she had been trapped with all three of her children in their home for a period of twenty-four hours. Dr. D expounded upon how the children, who had been listening nearby, had felt.

When children feel that they are a deterrent to their parent’s happiness, they feel unworthy and badly about themselves.

Imagine if you came home early from work, and met your spouse in the living room, who looked up and remarked, “Oh, Honey, I was really hoping for some peace and quiet here this afternoon, why don’t you go on over to hang out at a friend’s house?”

How would you feel? Do you feel valued? Appreciated? Highly regarded?

Obviously not. The same feelings of rejection are experienced by children who are greeted upon their arrival home from school with, “Sweetheart, I’m really busy now, why don’t you play in the basement?” Or at Sammy’s house, or outside, or upstairs, or ANYWHERE BUT HERE!

Greeting a child who comes home from school with love and attention is one of the integral keys to raising psychologically sound kids.

Your children know that you are busy. You’ve told them so thousands of times! When you take the time and energy to focus upon them, they feel valued and esteemed.

Remember- how do children spell “love”? T-I-M-E!


  1. Amen! So often we adults think because they are little they aren’t listening–they are. To every single thing we say and they take things literally. I heard in the supermarket the other day say to her little boy, “you are a real pain.” Hopefully she was just frustrated (maybe she did mean it). They believe us–we are, to them, the source of all wisdom and truth and they take statements like that to heart.

  2. Sara, Thanks for posting the first comment on what I consider the most important parenting rule in this entire site!

    Your supermarket comment really hurts- OUCH! What can be expected from a child treated like that??

    You’re right, children hear everything; they’re extremely sensitive to our moods. In fact, whenever I discipline one of my older children in a serious tone of voice, my 3-year-old, Ben, will say to me, “Are you happy to me?” 🙂

  3. Thank you for reminding me that childen spell love as time. This is just so true, so obvious, yet so easy to forget. At least it has been for me, up to now. I see a clear bright future ahead for all the people who come to realise this amazing fact – including myself!

    I am also pleased to recognise the situation you describe above, with my 2yr-old wanting to know just that: “Are you happy to me?”. Children have such a beautiful way with words; different to adults yet really to the heart. The connection they illuminate between love and focused time is incredibly healing.

    Thanks again for bringing this into the open.

  4. Thanks, Kajsa! When I disciplined another sibling of his, my 3 year-old used to look at me wide-eyed and ask that same question, and I would melt! “Are you happy to me?

  5. Mine usually fall into my arms telling me they love me if I tell them off because they know I won’t move them away.. regardless of what they have done.. then we go through the ‘I don’t love the thing you just did but of course I love you and I always will’..

    And they listen to EVERYTHING.. and especially closely to the things you shouldn’t say.. then repeat them to everyone they meet lol!!

  6. I always try to remind myself that my kids are my best friends, if my friends would call on the phone or we would meet on the street I would never be curt or cut them short. I would definitly not yell at my friends…….I would chat happily with a friend as if shes the only thing Ive got on my mind that minute! This is the way we have to relate to our children.

  7. So how do you not damage their self-esteem when you are really having a tough day, and you really don’t want to play dolls anymore? I guess my real question is, how many of your own needs do you sacrifice for your children? I’m willing to sacrifice, I just can’t seem to find the right balance between their needs and my needs – not frivilous wants, but real needs. I don’t want to feel guilty for having my own time, but I also don’t want to get upset with them because I’m having a rough day!

    Maybe it’s partly about how I go about speaking to my kids (4, 2, 4 mths) – instead of getting frustrated when I get bothered, I could take a deep breath and quietly (and non-sarcastically) tell them I need a little time to settle down. I guess it all comes down to having control over myself.

    My kids really are a source of my joy – I just need to get control over myself so that I can express that to them!!!

  8. Our kids just finished up with college, but we always gave them hugs and a kiss on the cheek as they were growing up when they went to bed and when they left the house and told them that we loved them. We always gave their friends a hug and told them that it is good to see them too. Their friends are just as important.

  9. Pastor lisa faussette says:

    Children need to be a PART of your joy but not the reason why you live. They should not be your best friend, but you should be mom and dad. A place that they can come to for advice.When everyone else wants to make them feel good, they can always come to you for direction. You want to leave them with a legacy of truth and righteousness not just warm and fuzzy. They have to raise children of their own one day. Love unconditionally will give them strength.

  10. I will be General Federation of Women’s Clubs Presidednt in 2008-2010. My main project focus will be the development of Emotional IQ (Healthy Self-Worth or Healthy Self-Esteem.)

    Is there a way to partner on this issue? I would like for brochures (inexpensive) to be distributed in communities about the importance of this subject. I would also like a speaker for a GFWC Board of Directors Meeting and/or a GFWC International Convention.

    Thank you for your consideration.
    Rose M. Ditto, PhD
    GFWC President-elect
    P. O. Box 140
    Wamego, Kansas 66547

  11. My children are grown, but their children are the reason I am writing this.
    It is the same old familiar complaint, grandma feeling sorry for the working parents and sorrier yet for the kids who have missed out, (along with mom) on so much of the closeness, the love, the feelings that give depth to parenting; a result of not being there at all half of their lives. No wonder they are not as close to their children as teens.

  12. While I agree that children need to know that they are “a source” of Happyness not Dispare. I think it is dangerous for your child to feel they are “the” source of your joy.

    I say this only because I have encountered parents who take that to mean “My child is the center, “the only source of my joy” When that is the message the child or children receive they fear leaving that parent. Without the child present to make that parent happy, then the child feels that they cause sadness for their Mom or Dad when they leave to School, friends, activities or in divorce situations, when they leave to spend time with their other parent.

    Although it is very important for a child to feel they are a source of happiness it is important for the parent to also show the child that they have other things that make them happy. This will not only create a child with high self-esteem it will also balance that with a sense of independance, allowing the child to feel confident that their parent or parents will be okay as they explore all the exciting possibilities in the world for them to build their own unique sense of happiness.

  13. Claire… We are all human and can’t alway control our every word or emotion… I have one steadfast rule in how I raise balanced children…

    If you do snap and yell or become short, that is normal and will not be the last time your children see that or react themselves, in that way… Remember to apologize for your mistakes.

    Your children will learn a few very important things… first, they learn that their mom is human and not perfect… second, they learn that they to will make mistakes… and most important, they learn what they should do after making a mistake… they will learn by your example, how to apologize…

  14. I always tell my children that they make our lives “better” and they are “gifts to us from heaven” and that being a mom is the best job I ever had, even when I sigh!!! I also tell them that that our lives would be “different” without them. But it is very important that they don’t feel they are the ONLY source of your joy because they will have issues when the time comes for their owm little lives! Take it from someone who’s mother used to to tell her “you are my life”. That is a big thing to hang on little shoulders. And to this day I feel guilt at times for having my own life, which I absolutely should not feel. I tell my children we are here for them; being a mom is the best job I ever had but I will retire one day! We owe that to our kids! Give ’em roots, and then give ’em wings!

  15. Exactly!!! Teresa you said it perfectly! Give’em roots, and then give ’em wings. I am going to remember that as a mom I want to remember that every day! Thank you

  16. I somewhat suffered from the opposite. There is a danger of going too far, though it is not prevalent today, some parents do go too far. I was the source of my parents joy, the center of their world, and I couldnt understand why the rest of the world didnt feel the same way about me. I became so attached to my mother and father that not until they died did I live a normal life and I missed out on a lot. I am well adjusted and happy now to a wonderful man with his children, grand children and great grands that are mine as well! But dont swing too far to the other side or it can cause a very insecure child with a constant sense of inadequacy.

    • I agree that children should feel that they bring their parents joy, but they should not be saddled with the idea that they are responsible for bringing their parents joy or that they are the only source of joy in their parents’ lives. That is a heavy burden to lay on a child and if things aren’t going well for them, they may try to hide their problems or they may feel responsible for worrying their parents. While children become the center of many parents’ lives, adults need to model a balance between engaging in quality time with their children and engaging in quality time with each other and other adults, and even having some alone time. I say all this as the mother of a 17, 19 and 21 year old who has made some mistakes along the way.