Kids and Self-Esteem: I’m so over it

Kids and Self-Esteem

“Hey, Suzanne,” said the 7-year-old whose sibling had been invited to my daughter’s party and was accompanying his mom to pick her up.


“Got anything to eat? I’m hungry.”


“Well there’s the leftover pizza from the party. Want me to help you get a slice?”


“Nah.  Don’t like pepperoni. I wish you had the Hawaiian.”


I was about to forage in my refrigerator for something that might tantalize when I stopped myself: What was I doing catering to this child whom I barely knew, but was apparently comfortable enough to approach me as a peer and ask for food without a “please” or “thank you.”


His twin sister was equally cocksure. “I heard your team won at soccer today,” I had told her during the party.


“Yeah, I scored the winning goal. You can come and watch me play next weekend if you want. I’m the star on the team.”


Oh …


Unconditional love


Later I commented to their mother that her children were remarkably confident. “Thank you,” she said with a dazzle. “Self-esteem in kids is so important.”


Is self-esteem in kids so important? If you Google “self-esteem” and “children” there are approximately 38 million hits, vs. 17 million if you substitute children for adults.


Personally, I’m so over our parental obsession with childhood self-esteem. I should clarify that I don’t take a “seen-not-heard” approach to kids: I think they need our unconditional love and that they blossom when they are held and hugged, listened to, promptly comforted and yes, praised frequently and generously. That is their birthright.


With that sensitive nurturing during the first years of a child’s life, a quiet confidence is more likely to emerge; a solid sense of self-worth that will (hopefully) enable them to confide in us about the bully at school, the malicious comment from a classmate or the unreasonable teacher. It will mean they’re more inclined to yell “NO” if they’re being coerced into an unwelcome physical encounter or a dangerous deed; and it will shield them when they fail and give them the gumption to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try again.


What’s wrong with modesty?


But self-esteem shouldn’t translate to a brazen confidence that means it’s OK to state their needs and wants to all and sundry; an expectation that most adults will find them as compelling and charismatic as their parents do; and that reciting their accomplishments without a quiver of self-doubt is a positive reflection of their character.


Having a modest, unassuming demeanor, thinking twice about blowing one’s trumpet and inconveniencing others are attractive traits in adults. I think they are attractive traits in kids, too.


Perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves what we mean when we sing the praises of self-esteem in our children. I seem to be uncomfortable with some parents’ definitions, but I like this one from the Canadian Mental Health Association:

<br /><br /><br />


  1. Having a healthy view of yourself
  2. Having a quiet sense of self-worth
  3. Having a positive outlook
  4. Feeling satisfied with yourself most of the time
  5. Setting realistic goals






 About Suzanne Leigh

Suzanne Leigh is a freelance health writer, a Huffington Post blogger and a childhood cancer advocate. More importantly, she is the mother of two gorgeous girls. She blogs about her family at The Mourning After Natasha.

20 thoughts on “Kids and Self-Esteem: I’m so over it”

  1. I could not read the whole thing. I got bored at the obvious LACK of self esteem of the writer feeling self-conscious next to another human being, We are all the same and children, adults, seniors, we all deserve to be treated equally. Why does this woman expect to be “ma’amed” just because of age? As far as I could tell from the way she redacted the passage, the kids were not disrespectful. DON’T OPEN YOUR DOOR IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO OPEN YOUR MIND AND HEART. People can be disrespectful even when using “please”.

  2. Yes some modesty (and good manners!) is attractive in people, in the sense that it’s more socially acceptable. If that were all, I could understand some people viewing modesty and politeness as unnecessary to their children’s well-being. However I think a strong sense of self-worth that’s tempered with modesty and politeness has the very real benefit of helping one navigate social relationships much more effectively. Quiet confidence combined with good manners and a sense of empathy is incredibly powerful- it helps a person create win-win situations wherever they go.

  3. Kid’s need to say please and thank you. Period. End of Story. I agree with the author 100%. Alongside confidence and self-worth, children need to be taught humility and modesty.

  4. I’ve had some bad experiences with these kind of kids. I had a preteen demand to know what I did all day long since I was “only” a stay at home mom. I blinked and said, I am a Midwife–I delivered YOU………I was astonished to discover she hadn’t a clue about her birth or who her midwife was…….

  5. The only thing I don’t like about this blog is how she starts it with the backhanded compliment to the other mother about her children’s “confidence” when she really meant it as a critique of their rudeness. That the other mother doesn’t get it, and takes it as a compliment makes remember the frequently two-faced and dishonest nature of relationships between women.

  6. I think raising a well rounded child who self confidence is more desirable. I think some parents have gone overboard with “Self Esteem”. I have a friend who thinks this is the most important thing & it’s even more important than education. I think self confidence combined with common sense, empathy, kindness, respect, manners & common courtesy are important.

  7. I do get what the author is trying to convey, though I’m not sure “too much self-esteem” is what she’s describing. I think she is describing unbelievable rudeness on the part of the boy coming to pick up his sister, demanding food and then turning up his nose at what was offered. I’d be hard pressed not to shoot back with a “Well, you can go home if you don’t like what I offered…in fact, I didn’t have to offer you anything”.
    As for the kid who sold herself as the star of the soccer team…I think that’s perfectly developmentally appropriate for a 7yo to say what she excels at.
    I don’t think it’s over-confidence, though, OR too-high self esteem…I think it’s rudeness, pure and simple. A child should NEVER march into someone’s house and say they’re hungry, what’ve you got to eat. And if I was that kid’s mom, it’d be the last time he ever did it. Manners, people. They go a long way. Teach them to your kids!

  8. Thanks so much for reading for reading my piece! I like Maiasaura’s observation. I’m wondering if anyone else thinks it is appropriate for a 7-year-old to tell an adult she’s the star of the soccer team and to come and watch her play. Is it developmentally appropriate (as Maiasaura says) or does it show “too much self-esteem”?

  9. Well, I just hear a lot of kids about that age (including my now 12yo, who still does it) saying “I’m really good at _____”. It kind of takes me aback at first, but then, that’s because I never hear adults talk like that. At first it does sound over-confident, but then I think about it,and I wish we didn’t lose that as adults.
    By the time we’re teens, we all believe we aren’t good at *anything*, and I think that’s kind of sad. It’s so hard for us adults to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, or say what we’re good at without thinking we are sounding like we are bragging.
    So here….I am reasonably good at making art (depends on who you ask), I used to be a fairly decent drummer (though I never would have said so at the time, 25 years ago), I am a good writer when I need to be, I excel at academics, I read well and have an excellent vocabulary, I think I have pretty good manners, I try to be a good mom.
    So those are my skills 🙂

  10. I agree with the writer on several points.
    Rudeness is rude. ‘Nuff said.
    Modesty is more attractive than bragging. In adults or children.
    It is OK for children to learn that are not the center of the universe.
    I will take it a step farther – real self-esteem comes from actually doing something well, not being told you are good for every little inconsequential move you make. By the 10,000th “good job!”, it just sounds like background chatter, noticeable only when it is absent. Kids who come to expect to hear compliments all the time will come to need that. When the real world doesn’t find them so special, I predict their fragile veneer of self-esteem will crumble, because it is not intrinsic.
    And I will take it one step more: it is OK to be average. By definition, most of us are. While we may have some unusual skill in some field, we are probably mediocre in most others. And that is OK. To be told all through childhood, “You’re the best (artist, soccer player, singer, whatever) just sets a kid up to be discouraged when someone is actually better. And that is usually the case.

  11. Both the author and the girls’ mother seem to have self-esteem confused with a lack of manners and consideration for others.
    Kids who aren’t taught basic politeness at home might be confident now, but are in for some hard lessons as they grow.

  12. I think his is very interesting, But let me say that I always feel that manners are important skills to have in order to be socially accepted in to society. However one thing I never liked as a kid and still don’t like as a 24 year old is when older (usually women) act as if everyone younger (or the same age) is naive about the world in general (everything). When in reality the opposite could be true. maybe this is off subject, but it really enrages me. My parents always treated me as though I was on the same level as them (as far as conceptualizing ideas and having a fair say) They never talked about me as if i was not in the room or as if i was “just a kid”. They always asked (and wanted) my impute on things even those which had nothing to do with me. This made me feel as though me and my ideas/feelings mattered to them. I agree that children can be over-confidant but I think we may need to define what that actually means, Because that concept has changed throughout history, what my grand parents thought was socially acceptable and what my parents thought was very different.

  13. I read the book “Brain Rules for Baby”, and it turns out, self-esteem IS over-rated. Kids with lower self-esteem actually did just as well, on average, on standardized tests, for instance. It is possible to think too much of yourself.

  14. I think that kids need to develop their own self-esteem, based on doing what they love well, not on an external validation such as “you’re so smart” or “you are such a great soccer player.” Otherwise, they are bound to end up constantly needing that external validation, which, in my opinion, is not real validation. As far as the child who asked for food in a straightforward manner, I would say that their social skills are a bit lacking, but that is not really self-esteem, that is lack of social skills and manners, which probably comes from not having it consistently modeled. Or the child could be developmentally delayed.

  15. “Brain Rules for Baby” was not written by a parent, though, and it uses a lot of the same old “children need to be told what to do on a regular basis so they know their limits.” I don’t buy it.

  16. I have to second what others are saying about the difference between self-esteem and poor manners. High self-esteem and humility are not mutally exclusive.
    @Monica Montiel– I wouldn’t treat a child that way. Saying “please” and “thank you” is just basic decency. Age has nothing to do with it.

  17. Its interesting that one person stated she didn’t approve of the article and the author after admitting she didn’t even read the whole thing. I think she might be one of those people the author is talking about.
    I loved this article, by the way. Unfortunately, my stepkids, whom I didn’t know until they were 7 and 5 (and didn’t become involved in their parenting for like another year) were raised by a parent much like the author seems to disapprove of and because of that they have very few friends. A lot of children they meet don’t want to sit around and listen to them talk about how great they are and its created some resentment (7 years into the marriage) with my other kids because they are not like this. My own children have been raised to be proud of themselves when they do the right thing and manage an accomplishment or try their best to achieve one, not just for simply existing and not to think they are better than others simply because they are alive. My children are not perfect, but they know they are expected to be kind and courteous and use their manner when out AND at home, while I constantly have to remind my stepchildren, who were spoiled not only by their mom, but by my husband’s parents also (my stepdaughter more than her brother) that they should be mindful of the needs/wants of others as well as their own. And despite their seemingly “I’m better than you” attitude, they are, when tested, less likely to stand up for themselves and less likely to stray from the crowd, even when the crowd isn’t doing the right thing.

  18. Being humble is an adult trait and it’s learned through self confidence. Kids who are vocally brimming with confidence will learn, eventually, the social rules of sharing that confidence.

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