This sign makes your child’s physical and sexual doubt easier to understand. It also makes it easier to see the connection between low self-esteem and relationship problems. Children believe they are who parents and other people have told them they are. The messages may have come directly from a parent or perhaps from teachers or peers. Wherever they came from, it was a part of the child’s world that did not value and support him.
It is as if he steps back, watches himself, and hears people saying to him, “You aren’t someone I like. You aren’t my kind of person. There’re a lot of things I don’t like about you; and I’m here to point them out to you, every chance I get.” The youngster learned about himself by having to live through what others said to him and about him to others. He painfully saw how they saw him and how they treated him.
There is no way you can directly help with this kind of self-hatred. Saying, “I love you,” is worth saying but does not help much. Mostly, it makes your child think you are as dumb as he feels. You are just someone else who lies to him.
Instead, your child needs you to actively value and care. He needs that relationship to be certain, secure, and authentic. Though it may be difficult for you, try to focus your thinking on the relationship itself and away from behavior and specific events. The quality of your relationship with your child is the heart of the message he needs from you. It needs to consistently say, “You’re someone worth my hanging in there with. I’m part of you as you are of me. We go together. However steep the hill and no matter how long it takes, we’ll climb it together.”
In the short-term, listen for a couple days and make note of the bad things he says about himself. Find a quiet time to talk with him about your list. If possible and if both parents are available, talk with him together since he needs to know you both care and are together with him on this. Say, “For the last two days, we’ve made a note every time we heard you put yourself down. Here’s the list of things you’ve said about yourself.” Then quietly read the list to him and wait for a minute to see if he says anything.
Next, Say, “We don’t see you like that. These things don’t seem like you to us. We’d like to get you to help us understand. If it’s okay with you, we’ll read these to you one at a time. We’d like for you to tell us why you think these things are true about you. You may want to give us an example or just explain it to us. The first thing on the list is, ‘I just mess everything up.’ Why do you believe that is true? Will you give us an example?”
Do not argue with him, do not try to convince him he is wrong. Simply ask questions and listen. That by itself lets him know you care and value what he has to say. Once you have listened to what he feels about each put-down, you can say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. We understand how you see yourself a lot better. We don’t see you in those ways at all but appreciate your being willing to help us understand.”
The conversation helps your youngster’s self-esteem all by itself. Also, you now have many new opportunities. Suppose your family goes to church and then to visit with some friends; and things go fine. Later that night, you can make a point to talk with your child. You might say, “Remember when you said you mess everything up? Well, today was an example of why we don’t agree. Today was a very good day. Everything went fine. It was good to have you with us. You didn’t mess anything up. That makes us think you’re not someone who messes everything up. We just want you to know why we think what we think.” Your child likely will not say anything. You have made your self-esteem point nonetheless.