“What makes you think your father was never proud of you?” I asked a millennial man in my counseling office years ago. He was leaning over, rubbing his temples with his palms. When he finally looked up at me, eyes glistening with tears, he gave a simple answer: “Because he never told me so.”
This man suffered heavily from poor self-esteem. He felt depressed at work, believing his career did not make his parents proud. He felt anxious in his marriage, thinking his wife would eventually leave him because he was not good enough. The truth is, the more he felt this way, the more likely his wife would actually want to leave him.
As a therapist, I have found that many adults suffer from the belief that they are “not good enough.” Most of these adults remember feeling this way starting in childhood. Even when their parents never explicitly said they were not good enough, they recalled things their parents did (or did not do) that led to this belief.
If an adult’s self-esteem has its roots in childhood, I believe today’s parents can take proactive steps to set their child up well. Here are 3 ways to develop your child’s self-esteem:
1. Hit on what your own parents missed.
Your parents did the best they could. They surely had some misses, however, due to culture gaps, work schedules, you name it. Actively ask yourself, “What did they miss?” and hit on those with your own kids. For example, many clients recall that when they got poor grades, their parents made them feel humiliated, perhaps as a way to motivate them to try harder. What they wanted instead was for their parent to sit with them, ask and validate how they were feeling, and say they were loved no matter what. Use what your parents emotionally missed for your child’s benefit!
2. Ask your child how you make them feel.
Even trying to hit on what your parents missed may miss the mark with your own kids. So, periodically ask your child how you make them feel. If you have multiple children, ask your child if they ever feel invisible or less-than their siblings. One client asked his son if he could do anything differently to make his son feel more loved. His son said, “Smile at me more.” Your kids’ answers can be great clues!
3. Celebrate what makes them uniquely them.
One teen client told me that her parents often posted her sister’s accomplishments on Facebook. She concluded that her parents were not proud of her, because she had nothing for her parents to post! This client was articulate, loyal, and refreshingly honest, but she felt her traits were useless because they weren’t “accomplishments.” What is unique to your child? A list such as the one found here might be of help. Studies show those who celebrate and excel in their natural passions will be more socially impactful and personally fulfilled. Your child’s unique qualities will never leave them. Praise what makes them them, and they will thrive.
Parents, you cannot do everything, but you can be excellent in the few important things! As you rest in God’s unconditional delight in you, let your kids rest in your unconditional delight in them. As their self-esteem builds, they will gain confidence to develop their passions and be a blessing to the world.
Roy Kim is an ordained pastor turned licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Fullerton and Pasadena in California. His education includes a bachelor's in English at UC Berkeley, an M.Div at Talbot School of Theology, and a Masters in Clinical Psychology at Azusa Pacific. Inspired by the help and healing he received, he has a passion to provide help and healing for others, especially for Korean American Christians and leadership. Visit his website: www.roykimtherapy.com.