5 Ways Overparenting May Be Affecting Your Child's Self-Esteem

 Healthy self-esteem, or confidence in one’s own worth and abilities, is fundamental to our children’s success at school, with peers, at home and into adolescent and adult life. Good self-esteem is linked to resiliency in children and adolescents and can keep kids in school longer and decreases the likelihood that they will try drugs or other risk-taking behaviors.


To do anything in life a child must first believe they can. Most parents or caregivers who are reading this already know how important building confidence and self-esteem is for children.  We praise, we provide opportunities, we encourage, we award, we tell them they can do anything they put their minds to. All of these things have their place in a child’s life, but that isn’t what builds self-esteem. Self-esteem can be a life long journey that starts at birth and is a hands-on endeavor. Like so much of life, experience is our greatest teacher.


I believe that parents want THE BEST for our children! Seeing them fail, be disappointed or left out can be as painful for us as it is for them. At times, in an attempt to make things “OK,” we may fall into Overparenting patterns that can be detrimental to our children’s development, not to mention our own sanity!


If you have been following some of my other blogs, you already know that anxiety and depression are the two most common issues I treat in children. Often times that means that I also help parents and caregivers manage their own anxieties. Even if you have no anxieties about anything else in life, at some point in parenting most of us have anxieties about our children. Elizabeth Stone said it best,

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

 I don’t know about you, but this quote stirs up some feelings for me! Yes, those are our hearts walking around out there and it is in our parental nature to protect them fiercely, but we can’t. We can’t have happy, resilient, self-reliant children and protect them from pain, struggles and disappointment. We have to instead break the cycle so that we can build true and lasting self-esteem in our children. They will need it!

Here are a few ways that I have seen overparenting affect a child’s self-esteem.


 1.)   Protecting them from failure- Failure is not the enemy for our children. Inherently, humans do not like things that are uncomfortable. This is linked to survival, but in modern parenting this protective stance can go into overdrive. Children have to fail so they can figure out another way and build resiliency. Belief in oneself cannot be taught; it has to be experienced, felt and built through repeated patterns of failure and success. Matching developmental stage with tasks is important so that children can get a healthy mix of challenges and successes. Too easy is not the answer, as children can start to expect that everything should happen with little to no effort, causing problems with self-esteem as children can start to believe then that if something is hard, they must not be good enough.


2.)   Not allowing them to make their own decisions-Of course as a parent you know that wearing shorts in January is not a good idea, or that putting chocolate on pizza may taste terrible, but not allowing your child to make these types of decisions can send the message that they cannot trust and rely on themselves and that they must check in with others for approval or to “please them.” Does this mean that we don’t set boundaries or provide logical consequences when we need to? Of course not! But, what it does mean is that we should allow natural consequences to happen. If your child insists on wearing shorts to school in January, let him. Give your children the freedom to choose whenever possible. When they come back and report on the natural consequences (i.e., “I was cold all day”) refrain from “I told you so’s.” We cannot impart wisdom, and experience is one of the best ways to figure out our limits and boundaries, creating a sense of security and increasing self-esteem.  


3.)    Not giving your child enough responsibilities-Your child will likely moan and groan about putting their laundry away, feeding the dog or unloading the dishwasher, but including these responsibilities (and more) can give a child a sense of ownership and accomplishment. These responsibilities teach children that they are contributing members to the family/community and therefore have inherent value. Service projects are another way to instill a sense of responsibility as a way to build self-esteem.


4.)   Fighting their “battles” for them - It may be tempting, when your child or adolescent tells you that they are having a hard time, to “fix” whatever problem they may have. This might come in the form of calling a peer’s parent or teacher in order to handle battles that children can (and probably should) be handling on their own. Now, I am a staunch advocate for children, and there are definitely times when caregivers and other professionals need to step in to help ensure they have a voice, but for many of the issues that children have, these are an opportunity to explore social boundaries and enhance skills, giving your child confidence and experience to be able to handle these issues as they arise in the future. Hopefully your child will tell you about their challenges, but instead of jumping in to “make it ok” instead we can ask our children how they intend to handle the situation and then afterward, how did it go? Would there be anything you would do differently next time? This will help children and teens feel empowered in their ability to problem solve, building—you guessed it—self-esteem!


5.)   Having unrealistic expectations – I personally believe that outside of family values (respect, kindness, generosity, gratitude, etc.), we should have absolutely no expectations for children. Just like most things in life, there are healthy family expectations that provide us with guidance and a solid foundation for growth, and then there are toxic expectations which can leave us feeling worthless or helpless if we cannot meet those expectations. Accepting your children just they way they are is the most important way to foster good self-esteem in kids. Maybe you don’t have a straight A student, star athlete or social butterfly. It can be hard for parents to put aside our expectations of who we want our kids to be, but the fun in parenting comes from getting to know the person you are raising. Reassuring your child that they are valued unconditionally is more important than most other things we do for our children. Having too high (or impossible) expectations can lead to learned helplessness and is a self-esteem crusher.


If you think you may be overparenting or if you have noticed low self-esteem in your child, it may be time to visit a therapist. If you would like to make an appointment with me, or one of our other amazing child and family therapists, contact us here.