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Oh, how delicate the thing called self esteem can be! As adults, most of us have noticed that if we are told something often enough, we might end up believing it. If those things happen to be negative, it can be so destructive!

It is very damaging for a child to hear negative things about him or herself. Unfortunately, these things often come from avenues other than their peers or the school bully. Haven’t we overheard parents saying things like “take that outfit off, you look awful!” Or saying within hearing range of a child “Johnny will never make anything of himself. He won’t even sit down to do his homework.”

Too many people simply don’t stop to think of the impact their words might have on an impressionable child. If a young teen experiments with makeup, as an example, words to the effect of “wipe it off, you look like a tramp!” will damage for a very long time while saying “I think a lighter shade of that color would look even prettier” builds self esteem because their efforts have been noticed.

It is hard to determine at exactly what age a child starts “taking it all in” and building what is to be their own self image in their mind. Certainly by the time they’re old enough to understand what “if you keep being too lazy to understand that math work, you’ll never make anything of yourself in life” means. If they start believing that life will be a waste, it will be an uphill battle to build self esteem and the desire to succeed in life. It could make much difference to hear instead “I know you’re having trouble with that math work, Billy. Why don’t we sit down together and figure it out? You’re very smart and I know that between us, we can conquer it.”

How a child views himself relies greatly on those he trusts. The parents. There will be enough peer pressure and bullies over the years; and what the child hears from a parent needs to counteract negative things others will say. It only takes a few short breaths to say “I’m so proud of you!” or “You look great today!”

I recently had an interview with a delightful girl of 15. She had been having some problems in many areas of life. She finally mentioned that she was dating and had been for a while. I took the plunge and asked what led to that decision. She thought for a moment and answered, “Oh, that’s easy. My mother told me that no boy would ever want to go out with me.”

Make your children feel good about themselves. It takes little effort to voice the things you admire about a child. Something like “that shirt really brings out the color of your eyes beautifully” just might make the difference between a terrific day or lousy day for them. If there is a decision they can help with, it’s a perfect opportunity to voice something you admire. “Will you help me choose curtains for your room? You have great taste in things like that.”

In hearing stories of domestic abuse, we often hear statements like “he told me constantly that I’m ugly and no one else would ever love me, so I started believing it.” It is no different for children. If the adults they trust in their life say things like “you’re lazy,” “you look chubby in that dress,” or “why can’t you do anything right?” their fragile self esteem is being damaged and it just might last for most of a lifetime.